"Say," said Uncle Amos, "these women, if they don't beat all! They ferret all the weak spots out a man. I say it ain't right."
Later in the evening the older members of the household left the porch and the trio of eternal trouble—two girls and a man—were left alone. It was then the city girl exerted her most alluring wiles to be entertaining. The man had eyes and ears for her only. As Mrs. Landis once said, he looked past Amanda and did not see her. She sat in the shadow and bit her lip as her plumed knight paid court before the beauty and charm of another. The heart of the simple country girl ached. But Isabel smiled, flattered and charmed and did it so adeptly that instead of being obnoxious to the country boy it thrilled and held him like the voice of a Circe. They never noticed Amanda's silence. She could lean back in her chair and dream. She remembered the story of Ulysses and his wax-filled ears that saved him from the sirens; the tale of Orpheus, who drowned their alluring voices by playing on his instrument a music sweeter than theirs—ah, that was her only hope! That somewhere, deep in the heart of the man she loved was a music surpassing in sweetness the music of the shallow girl's voice which now seemed to sway him to her will. "If he is a man worth loving," she thought, "he'll see through the surface glamour of a girl like that." It was scant consolation, for she knew that only too frequently do noble men give their lives into the precarious keeping of frivolous, butterfly women.
"Why so pensive?" the voice of Isabel pierced her revery.
"Me—oh, I haven't had a chance to get a word in edgewise."
"I was telling Mr. Landis he should go on with his studies. A correspondence course would be splendid for him if he can't get away from the farm for regular college work."
"I'm going to write about that course right away," Martin said. "I'm glad I had this talk with you, Miss Souders. I'll do as you suggest— study nights for a time and then try to get into a bank in Lancaster. It is so kind of you to offer to see your father about a position. I'd feel in my element if I ever held a position in a real bank. I'll be indebted to you for life."
"Oh," she disclaimed any credit, "your own merits would cause you to make good in the position. I am sure Father will be glad to help you. He has helped several young men to find places. All he asks in return is that they make good. I know you'd do that."
When Martin Landis said good-night his earnest, "May I come again— soon?" was addressed to Isabel. She magnanimously put an arm about Amanda before she replied, "Certainly. We'll be glad to have you."
"Oh," thought Amanda, "I'll be hating her pretty soon and then how will I ever endure having her around for a whole month! I'm a mean, jealous cat! Let Martin Landis choose whom he wants—I should worry!"
She said good-night with a stoical attempt at indifference, thereby laying the first block of the hard, high barricade she meant to build about her heart. She would be no child to cry for the moon, the unattainable. If her heart bled what need to make a public exhibition of it! From that hour on the front porch she turned her back on her gay, merry, laughing girlhood and began the journey in the realm of womanhood, where smiles hide sorrows and the true feelings of the heart are often masked.
The determination to meet events with dignity and poise came to her aid innumerable times during the days that followed. When Martin came to the Reist farmhouse with the news that his father was going to give him money for a course in a Business School in Lancaster it was to Isabel he told the tidings and from her he received the loudest handclaps.
The city girl, rosy and pretty in her morning dresses, ensconced herself each day on the big couch hammock of the front porch to wave to Martin Landis as he passed on his way to the trolley that took him to his studies in the city. Sometimes she ran to the gate and tossed him a rose for his buttonhole. Later in the day she was at her post again, ready to ask pleasantly as he passed, "Well, how did school go to-day?" Such seemingly spontaneous interest spurred the young man to greater things ahead.
Many evenings Martin sat on the Reist porch and he and Isabel laughed and chatted and sometimes half-absent-mindedly referred a question to Amanda. Frequently that young lady felt herself to be a fifth wheel and sought some diversion. Excuses were easy to find; the most palpable one was accepted with calm credulity by the infatuated young people.
One day, when three weeks of the boarder's stay were gone, Lyman Mertzheimer came home from college, bringing with him a green roadster, the gift of his wealthy, indulgent father.
He drew up to the Reist house and tooted his horn until Amanda ran into the yard to discover what the noise meant.
"Good-morning, Lady Fair!" he called, laughing at her expression of surprise. "I thought I could make you come! Bump of curiosity is still working, I see. Wait, I'm coming in," he called after her as she turned indignantly and moved toward the house.
"Please!" He called again as she halted, ashamed to be so lacking in cordiality. "I want to see you. That's a cold, cruel way to greet a fellow who's just come home from college and rushes over to see you first thing."
He entered the yard and Amanda bade him, "Come up. Sit down," as she took a chair on the porch. "So you're back for the summer, Lyman."
"Yes. Aren't you delighted?" He smiled at her teasingly. "I'm back to the 'sauerkraut patch' again. Glory, I wish Dad would sell out and move to some decent place."
"Um," she grunted, refraining from speech.
"Yes. I loathe this Dutch, poky old place. The only reason I'm glad to ever see it again is because you live here. That's the only excuse I have to be glad to see Lancaster County. And that reminds me, Amanda, have you forgotten what I told you at the Spelling Bee? Do you still feel you don't want to tackle the job of reforming me? Come, now," he pleaded, "give a fellow a bit of hope to go on."
"I told you no, Lyman. I don't change my mind so easily."
"Oh, you naughty girl!" came Isabel's sweet voice as she drifted to the porch. "I looked all over the house for you, Amanda, and here I find you entertaining a charming young man."
Isabel was lovely as usual. Amanda introduced Lyman to her and as the honeyed words fell from the lips of the city girl the country girl stood contemplating the pair before her. "That's the first time," she thought, "I was glad to hear that voice. I do wish those two would be attracted to each other. They match in many ways."
Lyman Mertzheimer was not seriously attracted to Isabel, but he was at times a keen strategist and the moment he saw the city girl an idea lodged in his brain. Here was a pretty girl who could, no doubt, easily be made to accept attentions from him. By Jove, he'd make Amanda jealous! He'd play with Isabel, shower attentions upon her until Amanda would see what she missed by snubbing a Mertzheimer!
The following week was a busy one for Isabel. Lyman danced attendance every day. He developed a sudden affection for Lancaster County and took Isabel over the lovely roads of that Garden Spot. They visited the Cloister at Ephrata, the museum of antiques at Manheim, the beautiful Springs Park at Lititz, the interesting, old-fashioned towns scattered along the road. Over state highways they sped along in his green roadster, generally going like Jehu, furiously. The girl enjoyed the riding more than the society of the man. He was exulting in the thought that he must be peeving Amanda.
Nevertheless, at the end of Isabel's visit, Lyman was obliged to acknowledge to himself, "All my fooling round with the other girl never phased Amanda! Kick me for a fool! I'll have to think up some other way to make her take notice of me."
Martin Landis came in for the small portion those days. How could he really enjoy his evenings at the Reist house when Lyman Mertzheimer sat there like an evil presence with his smirking smile and his watchful eyes ever open! Some of the zest went out of Martin's actions. His exuberance decreased. It was a relief to him when the boarder's parents returned from their trip and the girl went home. He had her invitation to call at her home in Lancaster. Surely, there Lyman would not sit like the black raven of Poe's poem! Isabel would not forget him even when she was once more in the city! Martin Landis was beginning to think the world a fine old place, after all. He was going to school, had prospects of securing a position after his own desires, thanks to Isabel Souders, he had the friendship of a talented, charming city girl—what added bliss the future held for him he did not often dream about. The present held enough joy for him.
That September Amanda went back to her second year of teaching at Crow Hill. She went bearing a heavy heart. It was hard to concentrate her full attention on reading, spelling and arithmetic. She needed constantly to summon all her will power to keep from dreaming and holding together her tottering castles in Spain.
From the little Landis children, pupils in her school, she heard unsolicited bits of gossip about Martin—"Our Mart, he's got a girl in Lancaster."
"Oh, you mustn't talk like that!" Amanda interrupted, feeling conscience stricken.
"Ach, that don't matter," came the frank reply; "it ain't no secret. Pop and Mom tease him about it lots of times. He gets all dressed up still evenings and takes the trolley to Lancaster to see his girl."
"Perhaps he goes in on business."
"Business—you bet not! Not every week and sometimes twice a week would he go on business. He's got a girl and I heard Mom tell Pop in Dutch that she thinks it's that there Isabel that boarded at your house last summer once. Mom said she wished she could meet her, then she'd feel better satisfied. We don't want just anybody to get our Mart. But I guess anybody he'd pick out would be all right, don't you, Aman—I mean, Miss Reist?"
"Yes, I guess so—of course she would," Amanda agreed.
One winter day Martin himself mentioned the name of Isabel to Amanda. He stopped in at the Reist farm, seeming his old friendly self. "I came in to tell you good news," he told Amanda.
"Now what?" asked Millie, who was in the room with Mrs. Reist and Amanda.
"I've been appointed to a place in the bank at Lancaster."
"Good! I'm so glad, Martin!" cried the girl with genuine interest and joy. "It's what you wanted, isn't it?"
"Yes. But I would never have landed it so soon if it hadn't been for Mr. Souders, Isabel's father. He's influential in the city and he helped me along. Now it's up to me to make good."
"You'll do that, I'm sure you will!" came the spontaneous reply.
Martin looked at the bright, friendly face of Amanda. "Why," he thought, "how pleased she is! She's a great little pal." For a moment the renewed friendliness of childhood days was awakened in him.
"Say, Amanda," he said, "we haven't had a good tramp for ages. I've been so busy with school"—he flushed, thinking of the city girl to whom he had been giving so much of his time—"and—well, I've been at it pretty hard for a while. Now I'll just keep on with my correspondence work but I'll have a little more time. Shall we take a tramp Sunday afternoon?"
"If you want to," the girl responded, her heart pounding with pleasure.
Amanda dressed her prettiest for that winter tramp. She remembered Queen Esther, who had put on royal apparel to win the favor of the king. The country girl, always making the most of her good features and coloring, was simply, yet becomingly dressed when she met Martin in the Reist sitting-room. In her brown suit, little brown hat pulled over her red hair, a brown woolly scarf thrown over her shoulders, she looked like a creature of the woodland she loved.
That walk in the afternoon sunshine which warmed slightly the cold, snowy earth, was a happy one to both. Some of the old comradeship sprang up, mushroom-like, as they climbed the rail fence and entered the woods where they had so often sought wild flowers and birds' nests. Martin spoke frankly of his work and his ambition to advance. Amanda was a good listener, a quality always appreciated by a man. When he had told his hopes and aspirations to her he began to take interest in her affairs. Her school, funny incidents occurring there, her basket work with the children—all were talked about, until Amanda in dazed fashion brushed her hand across her eyes and wondered whether Isabel and her wiles was all an hallucination.
But the subject came round all too soon. They were speaking of the Victrola recently purchased for the Crow Hill school when Martin asked, "Have you ever heard Isabel Souders play?"
"Yes, at Millersville. She often played at recitals."
"She's great! Isn't she great at a piano! She's been good enough to invite me in there. Sometimes she plays for me. The first time she played ragtime but I told her I hate that stuff. She said she's versatile, can please any taste. So now she entertains me with those lovely, dreamy things that almost talk to you. She's taught me to play cards, too. I haven't said anything about it at home, they wouldn't understand. Mother and Father still consider cards wicked. I dare say it wouldn't be just the thing for Mennonites to play cards, but I fail to see any harm in it."
"No—but your mother would be hurt if she knew it."
"She won't know it. I wouldn't do anything wrong, but Mother doesn't understand about such things. The only place I play is at Isabel's home. It's an education to be taken into a fine city home like theirs and treated as an equal."
"An equal! Why, Martin Landis, you are an equal! If a good, honest country boy isn't as good as a butterfly city girl I'd like to know who is! Aren't your people and mine as good as any others in the whole world? Even if the men do eat in their shirt sleeves and the women can't tell an oyster fork from a salad one." The fine face of the girl was flushed and eager as she went on, "Of course, these days young people should learn all the little niceties of correct table manners so they can eat anywhere and not be embarrassed. But I'll never despise any middle-aged or old people just because they eat with a knife or pour coffee into a saucer or commit any other similar transgression. It's a matter of man-made style, after all. When our grannies were young the proper way to do was to pour coffee into the saucers. Why, we have a number of little glass plates made just for the purpose of holding the cup after the coffee had been poured into the saucer. The cup-plates saved the cloth from stains of the drippings on the cup. I heard a prominent lecturer say we should not be so quick to condemn people who do not eat as we think they should. He said, apropos of eating with a knife or, according to present usage, with a fork, that it's just a little matter of the difference between pitching it in or shoveling it in."
Martin laughed. "There's nothing of the snob about you, is there? I believe you see the inside of people without much looking on the exterior."
"I hope so," she said. "Shall we turn back now? I'm cold."
She was cold, but it was an inward reaction from the joy of being with Martin again. His words about Isabel and his glad recounting of the hours he spent with her chilled the girl. She felt that he was becoming more deeply entangled in the web Isabel spun for him. To the country girl's observant, analytical mind it seemed almost impossible that a girl of Isabel's type could truly love a plain man like Martin Landis or could ever make him happy if she married him.
"It's just one more conquest for her to boast about," Amanda thought. "Just as the mate of the Jack-in-the-pulpit invites the insects to her honey and then catches them in a hopeless trap, so women like Isabel play with men like Martin. No wonder the root of the Jack-in-the-pulpit is bitter—it's symbolic of the aftermath of the honeyed trap."
Worried, unhappy though she was, Amanda's second year of teaching was, in the opinion of the pupils, highly successful. Some of the wonder- thoughts of her heart she succeeded in imparting to them in that little rural school. As she tugged at the bell rope and sent the ding-dong pealing over the countryside with its call that brought the children from many roads and byways she felt an irresistible thrill pulsating through her. It was as if the big bell called, "Here, come here, come here! We'll teach you knowledge from books, and that rarer thing, wisdom. We'll teach you in this little square room the meaning of the great outside world, how to meet the surging tide of the cities and battle squarely. We'll show you how to carry to commerce and business and professional life the honesty and wholesomeness and sincerity of the country. We'll teach you that sixteen ounces make a pound and show you why you must never forget that, but must keep exalted and unstained the high standards of courage and right."
Some world-old philosophical conception of the insignificance of her own joys and sorrows as compared with the magnitude of the earth and its vast solar system came to her at times.
"My life," she thought, "seems so important to me and yet it is so little a thing to weep about if my days are not as full of joy as I want them to be. I must step out from myself, detach myself and get a proper perspective. After all, my little selfish wants and yearnings are so small a portion of the whole scheme of things.
'For all that laugh, and all that weep And all that breathe are one Slight ripple on the boundless deep That moves, and all is gone.'"
Looking back over the winter months of that second year of teaching Amanda sometimes wondered how she was able to do her work in the schoolroom acceptably. But the strain of being a stoic left its marks upon her.
"My goodness," said Aunt Rebecca one day in February when a blizzard held her snowbound at the Reist farmhouse, "that girl must be doin' too much with this teachin' and basket makin' and who knows what not! She looks pale and sharp-chinned. Ain't you noticed?" she asked Mrs. Reist.
"I thought last week she looked pinched and I asked if she felt bad but she said she felt all right, she was just a little bit tired sometimes. I guess teachin' forty boys and girls ain't any too easy, Becky."
"My goodness, no! I'd rather tend hogs all day! But why don't you make a big crock of boneset tea and make her take a good swallow every day? There's nothin' like that to build abody up. She looks real bad—you don't want her to go in consumption like that Ellie Hess over near my place."
"Oh, mercy no! Becky, how you scare abody! I'll fix her up some boneset tea to-day yet. I got some on the garret that Millie dried last summer."
Amanda protested against the boneset but to please her mother she promised to swallow faithfully the doses of bitter tea. She thought whimsically as she drank it, "First time I knew that boneset tea is good for an aching heart. Boneset tea—it isn't that I want! I'm afraid I'm losing hold of my old faith in the ultimate triumph of sincerity and truth. Seems that men, even men like Martin Landis, don't want the old-fashioned virtues in a woman. They don't look for womanly qualities, but prefer to be amused and entertained and flattered and appealed to through the senses. Brains and heart don't seem to count. I wish I could be a butterfly! But I can never be like Isabel. When she is near I feel like a bump-on-a-log. My tongue is like lead while she chatters and holds the attention of Martin. She compels attention and crowds out everybody else. Oh, yea! as we youngsters used to say when things went wrong when we were little. Perhaps things will come out right some day. I'll just keep on taking that boneset tea!"
THE TROUBLE MAKER
If "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" a man spurned in love sometimes runs a close second.
One day in March Lyman Mertzheimer came home for the week-end. His first thought was to call at the Reist home.
Amanda, outwardly improved—Millie said, "All because of that there boneset tea"—welcomed spring and its promise, but she could not extend to Lyman Mertzheimer the same degree of welcome.
"It's that Lyman again," Millie reported after she had opened the door for the caller. "He looks kinda mad about something. What's he hangin' round here for all the time every time he gets home from school when abody can easy see you don't like him to come?"
"Oh, I don't know. He just drops in. I guess because we were youngsters together."
"Um, mebbe," grunted Millie wisely to herself as Amanda went to see her visitor. "I ain't blind and neither did I come in the world yesterday. That Lyman's wantin' to be Amanda's beau and she don't want him. Guess he'll stand watchin' if he gets turned down. I never did like them Mertzheimers—all so up in the air they can hardly stand still to look at abody."
Lyman was standing at the window, looking out gloomily. He turned as Amanda came into the room.
"I had to come, Amanda—hang it, you keep a fellow on pins and needles! You wouldn't answer my letters—"
"I told you not to write."
"But why? Aren't you going to change your mind? I made up my mind long ago that I'd marry you some day and a Mertzheimer is a good deal like a bulldog when it comes to hanging on."
"Lyman, why hash the thing over so often? I don't care for you. Go find some nice girl who will care for you."
"Um," he said dejectedly, "I want you. I thought you just wanted to be coaxed, but I'm beginning to think you mean it. So you don't care for me—I suppose you'd snatch Martin Landis in a hurry if you could get him! But he's poor as a church mouse! You better tie him to your apron strings—that pretty Souders girl from Lancaster is playing her cards there—"
Amanda sprang to her feet. "Lyman," she sputtered—"you—you better go before I make you sorry you said that."
The luckless lover laughed, a reckless, demoniac peal. "Two can play at that game!" he told her. "You're so high and mighty that a Mertzheimer isn't good enough for you. But you better look out—we've got claws!"
The girl turned and went out of the room. A moment later she heard the front door slammed and knew that Lyman had gone. His covert threat— what did he mean? What vengeance could he wreak on her? Oh, what a complicated riddle life had grown to be! She remembered Aunt Rebecca's warning that tears would have to balance all the laughter. How she yearned for the old, happy childhood days to come back to her! She clutched frantically at the quickly departing joy and cheerfulness of that far-off past.
"I'm going to keep my sense of humor and my faith in things in spite of anything that comes to me," she promised herself, "even if they do have to give me boneset tea to jerk me up a bit!" She laughed at Millie's faith in the boneset tea. "I hope it also takes the meanness and hate out of my heart. Why, just now I hate Lyman! If he really cared for me I'd feel sorry for him, but he doesn't love me, he just wants to marry me because long ago he decided he would do so some day."
In spite of her determination to be philosophical and cheerful, the memory of Lyman's threat returned to her at times in a baffling way. What could he mean? How could he harm her? His father was a director of the Crow Hill school, but pshaw! One director couldn't put her out of her place in the school!
Lyman Mertzheimer had only a few days to carry out the plan formulated in his angry mind as he walked home after the tilt with Amanda.
"I'll show her," he snorted, "the disagreeable thing! I'll show her what can happen when she turns down a Mertzheimer! The very name Mertzheimer means wealth and high standing! And she puts up her nose and tosses her red head at me and tells me she won't have me! She'll see what a Mertzheimer can do!"
The elder Mertzheimer, school director, was not unlike his son. When the young man came to him with an exaggerated tale of the contemptible way Amanda had treated him, thrown him over as though he were nobody, Mr. Mertzheimer, Senior, sympathized with his aggrieved son and stormed and vowed he'd see if he'd vote for that red-headed snip of a teacher next year. The Reists thought they were somebody, anyhow, and they had no more money than he had, perhaps not so much. What right had she to be ugly to Lyman when he did her the honor to ask her to marry him? The snip! He'd show her!
"But one vote won't keep her out of the school," said Lyman with diplomatic unconcern.
"Leave it to me, boy! I'll talk a few of them over. There was some complaint last year about her not doing things like other school- teachers round here, and her not being a strict enough teacher. She teaches geography with a lot of dirt and water. She has the young ones scurrying round the woods and fields with nets to catch butterflies. And she lugs in a lot of corn husk and shows them how to make a few dinky baskets and thinks she's doing some wonderful thing. For all that she draws her salary and gets away with all that tomfoolery—guess because she can smile and humbug some people—them red-headed women are all like that, boy. She's not the right teacher for Crow Hill school and I'm going to make several people see it. Then let her twiddle her thumbs till she gets a place so near home and as nice as the Crow Hill school!"
Mr. Mertzheimer, whose august dignity had been unpardonably offended, lost no time in seeing the other directors of the Crow Hill school. He mentioned nothing about the real grievance against Amanda, but played upon the slender string of her inefficiency, as talked about by the patrons. He presented the matter so tactfully that several of the men were convinced he spoke from a deep conviction that the interests of the community were involved and that in all fairness to the pupils of that rural school a new, competent teacher should be secured for the ensuing term. One director, being a man with the unfortunate addiction of being easily swayed by the opinions of others, was readily convinced by the plausible arguments of Mr. Mertzheimer that Amanda Reist was utterly unfit for the position she held.
When all the directors had been thus casually imbued with antagonism, or, at least, suspicion, Mr. Mertzheimer went home, chuckling. He felt elated at the clever method he had taken to uphold the dignity of his son and punish the person who had failed to rightly respect that dignity. In a few weeks the County Superintendent of Schools would make his annual visit to Crow Hill, and if "a bug could be put in his ear" and he be influenced to show up the flaws in the school, everything would be fine! "Fine as silk," thought Mr. Mertzheimer. He knew a girl near Landisville who was a senior at Millersville and would be glad to teach a school like Crow Hill. He'd tell her to apply for the position. It would take about five minutes to put out that independent Amanda Reist and vote in the other girl—it just takes some people to plan! He, Mr. Mertzheimer, had planned it! Probably in his limited education he had never read that sententious line regarding what often happens to the best laid plans of mice and men!
The Saturday following Mr. Mertzheimer's perfection of his plans Millie came home from market greatly excited.
"Manda, Manda, come here once!" she called as she set her empty baskets on the kitchen table. "Just listen," she said to the girl, who came running. "I heard something to-day! That old Mertzheimer—he—he—oh, yea, why daren't I swear just this once! I'm that mad! That old Mertzheimer and the young one ought to be tarred and feathered!"
"Why, Millie!" said Amanda, smiling at the unwonted agitation of the hired girl. "What's happened?"
"Well, this mornin' two girls came to my stall and while they was standin' there and I waited on some other lady, they talked. One asked the other if she was goin' to teach next year, and what do you think she said—that a Mr. Mertzheimer had told her to apply for the Crow Hill school, that they wanted a new teacher there for another year! I didn't say nothin' to them or let on that I know the teacher of that school, but I thought a heap. So, you see, that sneakin' man is goin' to put you out if he at all can do it. And just because you won't take up with that pretty boy of his! Them Mertzheimer people think they own whole Crow Hill and can run everybody in it to suit themselves."
"Yes—I see." Amanda's face was troubled. "That's Lyman's work." The injustice of the thing hurt her. "Of course, I can get another school, but I like Crow Hill, I know the children and we get along so well, and it's near home——"
"Well," came Millie's spirited question, "surely you ain't goin' to let Mertzheimers do like they want? I don't believe in this foldin' hands and lookin' meek and leavin' people use you for a shoe mat! Here, come in once till I tell you somethin'," she called as Mrs. Reist, Philip and Uncle Amos came through the yard. She repeated her account of the news the strangers had unwittingly imparted to her at market.
"The skunk," said Philip.
"Skunk?" repeated Uncle Amos. "I wouldn't insult the little black and white furry fellow like that! A skunk'll trot off and mind his own business if you leave him alone, and, anyhow, he'll put up his tail for a danger signal so you know what's comin' if you hang around."
"Well, then," said the boy, "call him a snake, a rattlesnake."
"And that's not quite hittin' the mark, either. A rattlesnake rattles before he strikes. I say mean people are more like the copperhead, that hides in the grass and leaves that are like its own color, and when you ain't expectin' it and without any warnin', he'll up and strike you with his poison fangs. What are you goin' to do about it, Amanda?"
"Do? I'll do nothing. What can I do?"
"You might go round and see the directors and ask them to vote for you," suggested Millie. "I wouldn't let them people get the best of me —just for spite now I wouldn't!"
"I won't ask for one vote!" Amanda was decided in that. "The men on the board have had a chance to see how the school is run, and if it doesn't please them, or if they are going to have one man rule them and tell them how to vote—let them go! I'll hand in my application, that's all I'll do."
"What for need you be so stiff-headed?" asked Millie sadly. "It'll spite us all if they put you out and you go off somewheres to teach. Ach, abody wonders sometimes why some people got to be so mean in this world."
"It is always that way," said Mrs. Reist gently. "There are weeds everywhere, even in this Garden Spot. Why, I found a stalk of deadly nightshade in my rose-bed last summer."
"Wheat and chaff, I guess," was Uncle Amos's comment.
"But, Amanda," asked Millie, "ain't there some person over the directors, boss over them?"
"Just the County Superintendent, and he's not really boss over them. He comes round to the schools every year and the directors come with him and, of course, if he blames a teacher they hear it, and if he praises one they hear it."
"Um—so—I see," said Millie.
THE COUNTY SUPERINTENDENT'S VISIT
The annual visit of the County Superintendent of Schools always carries with it some degree of anxiety for the teacher. Sometimes the visit comes unexpectedly, but generally the news is sent round in some manner, and last minute polish and coachings are given for the hour of trial. The teacher, naturally eager to make a creditable showing, never knows what vagaries of stupidity will seize her brightest pupils and cause them to stand helpless and stranded as she questions them in the presence of the distinguished visitor and critic.
The Superintendent came to the Crow Hill school on a blustery March day of the sort that blows off hats and tries the tempers of the sweetest natured people. Amanda thought she never before lived through hours so long as those in which she waited for the visitors. But at length came the children's subdued, excited announcement, "Here they come!" as the grind of wheels sounded outside the windows. A few minutes later the hour was come—the County Superintendent and the directors, Mr. Mertzheimer in the lead, stepped into the little room, shook hands with the teacher, then seated themselves and waited for Amanda to go on with her regular lessons and prove her efficiency.
Amanda, stirred by the underhand workings of Mr. Mertzheimer, was on her mettle. She'd just show that man she could teach! Two years' experience in handling rural school classes came to her support. With precision, yet unhurried, she conducted classes in geography, grammar, reading, arithmetic, some in beginners' grades and others in the advanced classes.
She saved her trump card for the last, her nature class, in which the children told from the colored pictures that formed a frieze above the blackboard, the names of fifty native birds and gave a short sketch of their habits, song or peculiarities.
After that the pupils sang for the visitors. During that time the eyes of the Superintendent traveled about the room, from the pressed and mounted leaves and flowers on the walls to the corn-husk and grass baskets on a table in the rear of the room.
When the children's part was ended came the time they loved best, that portion of the visit looked forward to each year, the address of the County Superintendent. He was a tall man, keen-eyed and kindly, and as he stood before the little school the eyes of every child were upon him—he'd be sure to say something funny before he sat down—he always did!
"Well, boys and girls, here we are again! And, as the old Pennsylvania Dutch preacher said, 'I'm glad that I can say that I'm glad that I'm here.' "He rattled off the words in rapid Pennsylvania Dutch, at which the children laughed and some whispered, "Why, he can talk the Dutch, too!" Then they listened in rapt attention as the speaker went on:
"Last year my hour in this schoolroom was one of the high-lights of my visits to the rural schools of the county. So I expected big things from you this year, and it gives me great pleasure to tell you that I am not disappointed. I might go farther and tell you the truth—I am more than pleased with the showing of this school. I listened attentively while all the classes were in session, and your answers showed intelligent thinking and reasoning. You had a surprise for me in that bird class. I like that! It's a great idea to learn from colored pictures the names of our birds, for by so doing you will be able to identify them readily when you meet them in the fields and woods. No lover of birds need fear that one of you will rob a bird's nest or use a sling-shot on a feathered neighbor. You show by your stories about the birds that a proper regard and appreciation for them has been fostered in you by your teacher. You all know that it has long been acknowledged that 'An honest confession is good for the soul,' so I'm going to be frank and tell you that as Miss Reist pointed to the birds there were thirty out of the fifty that I did not know. I have learned something of great value with you here to-day, and I promise you that I'm going to buy a book and study about them so that when I come to see you next year I'll know every one of your pictures. You make me feel ashamed of my meagre knowledge of our feathered neighbors on whom, indirectly, our very existence depends.
"I made mention last year about your fine work in basketry, and am glad to do so again. I like your teacher's idea of utilizing native material, corn husk, dried grasses and reeds, all from our own Garden Spot, and a few colored strands of raffia from Madagascar, and forming them into baskets. This faculty of using apparently useless material and fashioning from it a useful and beautiful article is one of our Pennsylvania Dutch heritages and one we should cherish and develop.
"I understand there has been some adverse criticism among a few of the less liberal patrons of the community in regard to the basket work and nature study Miss Reist is teaching. Oh, I suppose we must expect that! Progress is always hampered by sluggish stupidity and contrariness. We who can see into the future and read the demands of the times must surely note that the children must be taught more than the knowledge contained between the covers of our school books. The teacher who can instil into the hearts of her pupils a feeling of kinship with the wild creatures of the fields and woods, who can waken in the children an appreciation of the beauty and symmetry of the flowers, even the weeds, and at the same time not fail in her duty as a teacher of arithmetic, history, and so forth, is a real teacher who has the proper conception of her high calling and is conscientiously striving to carry that conception into action.
"Directors, let me make this public statement to you, that in Miss Reist you have a teacher well worthy of your heartiest cooperation. The danger with us who have been out of school these thirty years or more is that we expect to see the antiquated methods of our own school days in operation to-day. We would have the schools stand still while the whole world moves.
"I feel it is only just to commend a teacher's work when it deserves commendation, as I consider it my duty to point out the flaws and name any causes for regret I may discover in her teaching. In this school I have found one big cause for regret—-"
The hard eyes of Mr. Mertzheimer flashed. All through the glowing praise of the County Superintendent the schemer had sat with head cast down and face flushed in mortification and anger. Now his head was erect. Good! That praise was just a bluff! That red-head would get a good hard knock now! Good enough for her! Now she'd wish she had not turned down the son of the leading director of Crow Hill school! Perhaps now she'd be glad to accept the attentions of Lyman. Marriage would be a welcome solution to her troubles when she lost her position in the school so near home. The Superintendent was not unmindful of that "flea in his ear," after all.
"I have found one cause for regret," the speaker repeated slowly, "one big cause."
His deep, feeling voice stopped and he faced the school while the hearts of pupils and teacher beat with apprehension.
"And that regret is," he said very slowly so that not one word of his could be lost, "that I have not a dozen teachers just like Miss Reist to scatter around the county!"
Amanda's lips trembled. The relief and happiness occasioned by the words of the speaker almost brought her to tears. The children, appreciating the compliment to their teacher, clapped hands until the little room resounded with deafening noise.
"That's good," said the distinguished visitor, smiling, as the applause died down. "You stick to your teacher like that and follow her lead and I am sure you will develop into men and women of whom Lancaster County will be proud."
After a few more remarks, a joke or two, he went back to his seat with the directors. Mr. Mertzheimer avoided meeting his eyes. The father of Lyman Mertzheimer, who had been so loud in his denunciation of the tomfoolery baskets and dried weeds, suddenly developed an intense interest in a tray of butterflies and milkweed.
In a few minutes it was time for dismissal. One of the older girls played a simple march on the little organ and the scholars marched from the room. With happy faces they said good-bye, eager to run home and tell all about the visit of the County Superintendent and the things he said.
As the visitors rose to go the County Superintendent stepped away from the others and went to Amanda.
"You have been very kind," she told him, joy showing in her animated face.
"Honor to whom honor is due, Miss Reist," he said, with that winning smile of approval so many teachers worked to win. "I have here a little thing I want you to read after we leave. It is a copy of a letter you might like to keep, though I feel certain the writer of it would feel embarrassed if told of your perusal of it. I want to add that I should have felt the same and made similar remarks to-day if I had not read that letter, but probably I should not have expressed my opinion quite so forcibly. Keep the letter. I intend to keep the original. It renews faith in human nature in general. It makes me feel anew how good a thing it is to have a friend. Good-bye, Miss Reist. I have enjoyed my visit to Crow Hill school, I assure you."
Amanda looked at him, wondering. What under the sun could he mean? Why should she read a letter written to him? She smiled, shook the hand he offered, but was still at a loss to understand his words. The directors came up to say good-bye. Mr. Mertzheimer bowed very politely but refrained from meeting her eyes as he said, "Good-afternoon." The other men did not bow but they added to their good-bye, "I'm going to vote for you. We don't want to lose you."
Amanda's heart sang as the two carriages rolled away and she was left alone in the schoolroom. She had seen the device of the wicked come to naught, she gloried in the fact that the mean and unfair was once more overbalanced by the just and kind. After the tribute from the County Superintendent and the promises from all the directors but Mr. Mertzheimer she felt assured that she would not be ignominiously put out of the school she loved. Then she thought of the letter and opened it hastily, her eyes traveling fast over the long sheet.
Maybe it ain't polite to write to you when you don't know me but I got a favor to ask you and I don't know no other way to do it. Amanda Reist is teacher of the Crow Hill school and she is a good one, everybody says so but a few old cranks that don't know nothing. There's one of the directors on the school board has got a son that ain't worth a hollow bean and he wants Amanda should take him for her beau. She's got too much sense for that, our Amanda can get a better man than Lyman Mertzheimer I guess. But now since she won't have nothing to do with him he's got his pop to get her out her school. The old man has asked another girl to ask for the job and he's talked a lot about Amanda till some of the other directors side with him. He's rich and a big boss and things got to go his way. Most everybody says Amanda's a good teacher, the children run to meet her and they learn good with her. I heard her say you was coming to visit the school soon and that the directors mostly come with you and I just found out where you live and am writing this to tell you how it is. Perhaps if you like her school and would do it to tell them directors so it would help her. It sometimes helps a lot when a big person takes the side of the person being tramped on. Amanda is too high strung to ask any of the directors to stick to her. She says they can see what kind of work she does and if they want to let one man run the school board and run her out she'll go out. But she likes that school and it's near her home and we'd all feel bad if she got put out and went off somewheres far to teach. I'm just the hired girl at her house but I think a lot of her. I will say thanks very much for what you can do.
And oblige, AMELIA HESS.
P. S. I forgot to say Amanda don't know I have wrote this. I guess she wouldn't leave me send it if she did."
Tears of happiness rolled down the girl's face as she ended the reading of the letter. "The dear thing! The loyal old body she is! So that was why she borrowed my dictionary and shut herself up in her room one whole evening! Just a hired girl she says—could any blood relative do a kinder deed? Oh, I don't wonder he said it renews faith in human nature! I guess for every Mertzheimer there's a Millie. I'll surely keep this letter but I won't let her know I have any idea about what she did. I'm so glad he gave it to me. It takes the bitter taste from my mouth and makes life pleasant again. Now I'll run home with the news of the Superintendent's visit and the nice things he said."
She did run, indeed, especially when she reached the yard of her home. By the time the gate clicked she was near the kitchen door. Millie was rolling out pies, Mrs. Reist was paring apples.
"Mother," the girl twined an arm about the neck of the white-capped woman and kissed her fervently on the cheek, "I'm so excited! Oh, Millie," she treated the astonished woman to the same expression of love.
"What now?" said Millie. "Now you got that flour all over your nice dress. What ails you, anyhow?"
"Oh, just joy. The Superintendent was here and he puffed me way up to the skies and the directors, all but Mr. Mertzheimer, promised to vote for me. I didn't ask them too, either."
"I'm so glad," said Mrs. Reist.
"Ach, now ain't that nice! I'm glad," said Millie, her face bright with joy. "So he puffed you up in front of them men? That was powerful nice for him to do, but just what you earned, I guess. I bet that settled the Mertzheimer hash once! That County man knows his business. He ain't goin' through the world blind. What all did he say?"
"Oh, he was lovely. He liked the baskets and the classes and the singing and—everything! And Mr Mertzheimer looked madder than a setting hen when you take her off the nest. He hung his head like a whipped dog."
"Na-ha!" exulted Millie. "That's one time that he didn't have his own way once! I bet he gets out of the school board if he can't run it."
Her prediction came true. Mr. Mertzheimer's dignity would not tolerate such trampling under foot. If that red-headed teacher was going to keep the school he'd get out and let the whole thing go to smash! He got out, but to his surprise, nothing went to smash. An intelligent farmer, more amenable to good judgment, was elected to succeed him and the Crow Hill school affairs went smoothly. In due time Amanda Reist was elected by unanimous vote to teach for the ensuing year and the Mertzheimers, thwarted, nursed their wrath, and sat down to think of other avenues of attack.
If the securing of the coveted school, the assurance of the good will and support of the patrons and directors, and the love of the dear home folks was a combination of blessings ample enough to bring perfect happiness, then Amanda Reist should have been in that state during the long summer months of her vacation. But, after the perverseness of human nature, there was one thing lacking, only one—her knight, Martin Landis.
During the long, bright summer days Amanda worked on the farm, helped Millie faithfully, but she was never so busily occupied with manual labor that she did not take time now and then to sit idly under some tree and dream, adding new and wonderful turrets to her golden castles in Spain.
She remembered with a whimsical, wistful smile the pathetic Romance of the Swan's Nest and the musing of Little Ellie—
"I will have a lover, Riding on a steed of steeds; He shall love me without guile, And to him I will discover The swan's nest among the reeds. "And the steed shall be red-roan, And the lover shall be noble"—
and so on, into a rhapsody of the valor of her lover, such as only a romantic child could picture. But, alas! As the dream comes to the grand climax and Little Ellie, "Her smile not yet ended," goes to see what more eggs were with the two in the swan's nest, she finds,
"Lo, the wild swan had deserted, And a rat had gnawed the reeds!"
Was it usually like that? Amanda wondered. Were reality and dreams never coincident? Was the romance of youth just a pretty bubble whose rainbow tints would soon be pierced and vanish into vapor? Castles in Spain—were they so ethereal that never by any chance could they—at least some semblance to them—be duplicated in reality?
"I'll hold on to my castles in Spain!" she cried to her heart. "I'll keep on hoping, I won't let go," she said, as though, like Jacob of old, she were wrestling for a blessing.
Many afternoons she brought her sewing to the front porch and sat there as Martin passed by on his way home from the day's work at Lancaster. His cordial, "Hello" was friendly enough but it afforded scant joy to the girl who knew that all his leisure hours were spent with the attractive Isabel Souders.
Martin was friendly enough, but that was handing her a stone when she wanted bread.
One June morning she was working in the yard as he went by on his way to the bank. A great bunch of his mother's pink spice roses was in his arm. He was earlier, too, than usual. Probably he was taking the flowers to Isabel.
"Hello," he called to the girl. "You're almost a stranger, Amanda."
He was not close enough to see the tremble of her lips as she called back, "Not quite, I hope."
"Well, Mother said this morning that she has not seen you for several weeks. You used to come down to play with the babies but now your visits are few and far between. Mother said she misses you, Amanda. Why don't you run down to see her when you have time?"
"All right, Martin, I will. It is some time since I've had a good visit with your mother. I'll be down soon."
"Do, she'll be glad," he said and went down the road to the trolley.
"Almost a stranger," mused the girl after he was gone. Then she thought of the old maid who had answered a query thus, "Why ain't I married? Goodness knows, it ain't my fault!" Amanda's saving sense of humor came to her rescue and banished the tears.
"Guess I'll run over to see Mrs. Landis a while this afternoon. It is a long time since I've been there. I do enjoy being with her. She's such a cheerful person. The work and noise of nine children doesn't bother her a bit. I don't believe she knows what nerves are."
That afternoon Amanda walked down the country road, past the Crow Hill schoolhouse, to the Landis farm. As she came to the barn-yard she heard Emma, the youngest Landis child, crying and an older boy chiding, "Ah, you big baby! Crying about a pinched finger! Can't you act like a soldier?"
"But girls—don't be soldiers," said the hurt child, sobbing in childish pain.
Amanda appeared on the scene and went to the grassy slope of the big bank barn. There she drew the little girl to her and began to comfort her. "Here, let Amanda kiss the finger."
"It hurts, it hurts awful, Manda," sniffed the child.
"I know it hurts. A pinched finger hurts a whole lot. You just cry a while and by that time it will stop hurting." She began to croon to the child the words of an old rhyme she had picked up somewhere long ago:
"Hurt your finger, little lassie? Just you cry a while! For some day your heart will hurt And then you'll have to smile.
Time enough to be a stoic In the coming years; Blessed are the days when pain Is washed away by tears."
By the time the verse was ended the child's attention had been diverted from the finger to the song and the smiles came back to the little face.
"Now," said Amanda, "we'll bathe it in the water at the trough and it will be entirely well."
"And it won't turn into a pig's foot?"
"Charlie said it would if I didn't stop cryin'."
"But you stopped crying, you know, before it could do that. Charlie'll pump water and we'll wash all nice and clean and go in to Mother."
Water from the watering trough in the barn-yard soon effaced the traces of tears and a happy trio entered the big yard near the house. An older boy and Katie Landis came running to meet them.
"Oh, Amanda," said Katie, "did you come once! Just at a good time, too! We're gettin' company for supper and Mom was wishin' you'd come so she could ask you about settin' the table. We're goin' to eat in the room to-night,'stead of the kitchen like we do other times. And we're goin' to have all the good dishes and things out and a bouquet in the middle of the table when we eat! Ain't that grand? But Pop, he told Mom this morning that if it's as hot to-night as it was this dinner he won't wear no coat to eat, not even if the Queen of Sheba comes to our place for a meal! But I guess he only said that for fun, because, ain't, the Queen of Sheba was the one in the Bible that came to visit Solomon?"
"Well, she ain't comin' to us, anyhow. It's that Isabel from Lancaster, Martin's girl, that's comin'."
"Oh!" Amanda halted on her way across the lawn. "What time is she coming?" she asked in panicky way, as though she would flee before the visitor arrived.
"Ach, not for long yet! We don't eat till after five. Martin brings her on the trolley with him when he comes home from the bank."
"Then I'll go in to see your mother a while." A great uneasiness clutched at the girl's heart. Why had she come on that day?
But Mrs. Landis was glad to see her. "Well, Amanda," she called through the kitchen screen, "you're just the person I said I wished would come. Come right in.
"Come in the room a while where it's cool," she invited as Amanda and several of the children entered the kitchen. "I'm hot through and through! I just got a short cake mixed and in the stove. Now I got nothin' special to do till it's done. I make the old kind yet, the biscuit dough. Does your mom, too?"
"Ach, it's better, too, than this sweet kind some people make. I split it and put a lot of strawberries on it and we eat it with cream."
"Um, Mom," said little Charlie, "you make my mouth water still when you talk about good things like that. I wish it was supper-time a'ready."
"And you lookin' like that!" laughed the mother, pointing to his bare brown legs and feet and his suit that bore evidence of accidental meetings with grass and ground.
"Did they tell you, Amanda," she went on placidly, as she rocked and fanned herself with a huge palm-leaf fan, "that we're gettin' company for supper?"
"Yes. Martin, he goes in to see her at Lancaster real often and he's all the time talkin' about her and wantin' we should meet her. She has him to supper—ach, they call it dinner—but it's what they eat in the evening. I just said to his pop we'll ask her out here to see us once and find out what for girl she is. From what Martin says she's a little tony and got money and lots of fine things. You know Martin is the kind can suit himself to most any kind of people. He can make after every place he goes, even if they do put on style. So mebbe she thinks Martin's from tony people, too. But when she comes here she can see that we're just plain country people. I don't put no airs on, but I did say I'd like to have things nice so that she can't laugh at us, for I'd pity Martin if she did that. Mebbe you know how to set the things on the table a little more like they do now. It's so long since I ate any place tony. I said we'd eat in the room, too, and not in the kitchen. We always eat in the kitchen for it's big and handy and nice and cool with all the doors and windows open. But I'll carry things in the room to-night. It will please Martin if we have things nice for his girl."
"Um-huh, Martin's got a girl!" sang Charlie gleefully.
"Yes," spoke up Johnny, a little older and wiser than Charlie. "I know he's got a girl. He's got a big book in his room and I seen him once look in it and pick up something out of it and look at it like it was something worth a whole lot. I sneaked in after he went off and what d'you think it was? Nothing at all but one of them pink lady-slippers we find in the woods near the schoolhouse! He pressed it in that book and acted like it was something precious, so I guess his girl give it to him."
Amanda remembered the pink lady-slipper. She had seen Isabel give it to Martin that spring day when the city girl's glowing face had smiled over the pink azaleas, straight into the eyes of the country boy.
"Charlie," chided Mrs. Landis, "don't you be pokin' round in Martin's room. And don't you tell him what you saw. He'd be awful put out. He don't like to be teased. Ach, my," she shook her head and smiled to Amanda, "with so many children it makes sometimes when they all get talkin' and cuttin' up or scrappin'."
"But it's a lively, merry place. I always like to come here."
"Do you, now? Well, I like to have you. I often say to Martin that you're like a streak of sunshine comin' on a winter day, always so happy and full of fun, it does abody good to have you around. Ach"—in answer to a whisper from the six-year-old baby, "yes, well, go take a few cookies. Only put the lid on the crock tight again so the cookies will keep fresh. Now I guess I better look after my short cake once. Mister likes everything baked brown. Then I guess we'll set the table if you don't mind tellin' me a little how."
"I'll be glad to."
While Mrs. Landis went up-stairs to get her very best table-cloth Amanda looked about the room with its plain country furnishings, its hominess and yet utter lack of real artistry in decoration. Her heart rebelled. What business had a girl like Isabel Souders to enter a family like the Landis's? She'd like to bet that the city girl would disdain the dining-room with its haircloth sofa along one wall and its organ in one corner, its quaint, silk-draped mantel where two vases of Pampas grass hobnobbed with an antique pink and white teapot and two pewter plates; its lack of buffet or fashionable china closet, its old, low-backed, cane-seated walnut chairs round a table, long of necessity to hold plates for so large a family.
"Here it is, the finest one I got. That's one I got yet when I went housekeepin'. I don't use it often, it's a little long for the kitchen table." Mrs. Landis proudly exhibited her old linen table-cloth. "Now then, take hold."
In a few minutes the cloth was spread upon the table and the best dishes brought from a closet built into the kitchen wall.
"How many plates?" asked Amanda.
"Why, let's count once. Eleven of us and Isabel makes twelve and—won't you stay, too, Amanda?"
"Oh, no! I'd make thirteen," she said, laughing.
"Ach, I don't believe in that unlucky business. You can just as well stay and have a good time with us. You know Isabel."
"Yes, I know her. But really, I can't stay. I must get home early. Some other time I'll stay."
"All right, then, but I'd like it if you could be here."
"I'll put twelve plates on the table."
"What I don't know about is the napkins, Amanda. We used to roll them up and put them in the tumblers and then some people folded them in triangles and laid them on the plates, but I don't know if that's right now. Mine are just folded square."
"That's right. I'll place them to the side, so. And the forks go here and the knives and spoons to this side."
"Well, don't it beat all? They lay the spoons on the table now? What for is the spoon-holder?"
"Gone out of style."
"Well, that's funny. I guess when our Mary gets a little older once, she'll want to fix things up, too. I don't care if she does, so long as she don't want to do dumb things and put on a lot of airs that ain't fittin' to plain people like us. But it'll be a big wonder to me if one of the children won't say something about the spoons bein' on the table-cloth. That's new to them. Then I need three glass dishes for jelly so none will have to reach so far for it. And a big platter for fried ham, a pitcher for the gravy, a dish for smashed potatoes, one for sweet potatoes, a glass one for cabbage slaw and I guess I ought to put desserts out for the slaw, Amanda. I hate when gravy and everything gets mixed on the plate. Then I'm going to have some new peas and sour red beets and the short cake. I guess that's enough."
"It sounds like real Lancaster County food," said the girl. "Your company should enjoy her supper."
"Ach, I guess she will. Now I must call in some of the children and get them started dressin' once."
She stood at the screen door of the kitchen and rang a small hand bell. Its tintinnabulation sounded through the yard and reached the ears of the children who were playing there. The three boys next in age to Martin were helping their father in the fields, but the other children came running at the sound of the bell.
"Time to get dressed," announced Mrs. Landis. "You all stay round here now so I can call you easy as one gets done washin'. Johnny, you take Charlie and the two of you get washed and put on the clothes I laid on your bed. Then you stay on the porch so you don't get dirty again till supper and the company comes. Be sure to wash your feet and legs right before you put on your stockings."
"Aw, stockings!" growled Charlie. "Why can't we stay barefooty?"
"Ach," he said sulkily as he walked to the stairs, "I don't like the kind of company you got to put stockings on for! Not on week-days, anyhow!"
His mother laughed. "Emma," she addressed one of the girls, "when the boys come back you and Mary and Katie must get washed and dressed for the company. Mary, you dare wear your blue hair-ribbons today and the girls can put their pink ones on and their white dresses."
"Oh," the little girls cried happily. Dressing up for company held more pleasure for them than it did for the boys.
"I laugh still," said Mrs. Landis, "when people say what a lot of work so many children make. In many ways, like sewing and cookin' for them they do, but in other ways they are a big help to me and to each other. If I had just one now I'd have to dress it, but with so many they help the littler ones and all I got to do is tell them what to do. It don't hurt them to work a little. Mary is big enough now to put a big apron on and help me with gettin' meals ready. And the boys are good about helpin' me, too. Why, Martin, now, he used to help me like a girl when the babies were little and I had a lot to do. Mister said the other day we dare be glad our boys ain't give us no trouble so far. But this girl of Martin's, now, she kinda worries me. I said to Mister if only he'd pick out a girl like you."
To her surprise the face of the girl blanched. Mrs. Landis thought in dismay, "Now what for dumb block am I, not to guess that mebbe Amanda likes our Martin! Ach, my! but it spites me that he's gone on that city girl! Well," she went on, talking in an effort at reparation and in seeming ignorance of the secret upon which she had stumbled, "mebbe he ain't goin' to marry her after all. These boys sometimes run after such bright, merry butterfly girls and then they get tired of them and pick out a nice sensible one to marry. Abody must just keep on hopin' that everything will turn out right. Anyhow, I don't let myself worry much about it."
"Do you ever worry, Mrs. Landis? I can't remember ever seeing you worried and borrowing trouble."
"No, what's the use? I found out long ago that worry don't get you nowhere except in hot water, so what's the use of it?"
"That's a good way to look at things if you can do it," the girl agreed. "I think I'll go home now. You don't need me. You'll get along nicely, I'm sure."
"Ach, yes, I guess so. But now you must come soon again, Amanda. This company business kinda spoiled your visit to-day."
Amanda was in the rear of the house and did not see the vision of loveliness which passed the Reist farmhouse about five o'clock that afternoon. One of Martin's brothers met the two at the trolley and drove them to the Landis farm. Isabel Souders was that day, indeed, attractive. She wore a corn-colored organdie dress and leghorn hat, her natural beauty was enhanced by a becoming coiffure, her eyes danced, her lips curved in their most bewitching bow.
The visitor was effusive in her meeting with Martin's mother. "Dear Mrs. Landis," she gushed, "it is so lovely of you to have me here! Last summer while I boarded at Reists' I was so sorry not to meet you! Of course I met Martin and some of the younger children but the mother is always the most adorable one of the family! Oh, come here, dear, you darling," she cooed to little Emma, who had tiptoed into the room. But Emma held to her mother's apron and refused to move.
"Ach, Emma," Katie, a little older, chided her. "You'll run a mile to Amanda Reist if you see her. Don't act so simple! Talk to the lady; she's our company."
"Ach, she's bashful all of a sudden," said Mrs. Landis, smiling. "Now, Miss Souders, you take your hat off and just make yourself at home while I finish gettin' the supper ready. You dare look through them albums in the front room or set on the front porch. Just make yourself at home now."
"Thank you, how lovely!" came the sweet reply.
A little while later when Martin left her and went to his room to prepare for the evening meal the children, too, scurried away one by one and left Isabel alone. She took swift inventory of the furnishings of the front room.
"Dear," she thought, "what atrocious taste! How can Martin live here? How can he belong to a family like this?"
But later she was all smiles again as Martin joined her and Mrs. Landis brought her husband into the room to meet the guest. Mr. Landis had, in spite of protests and murmurings, been persuaded to hearken to the advice of his wife and wear a coat. Likewise the older boys had followed Martin's example and donned the hot woolen articles of dress they considered superfluous in the house during the summer days.
Isabel chattered gaily to the men of the Landis household until Mrs. Landis stood in the doorway and announced, "Come now, folks, supper's done."
After the twelve were seated about the big table, Mr. Landis said grace and then Mrs. Landis rose to pour the coffee, several of the boys started to pass the platters and dishes around the table and the evening meal on the farm was in full swing.
"Oh," piped out little Charlie as he lifted his plate for a slice of ham, "somebody's went and threw all the spoons on the table-cloth! Here's two by my plate. And Emma's got some by her place, too!"
"Sh!" warned Mary, but Mrs. Landis laughed heartily. "Easy seeing," she confessed, "that we ain't used to puttin' on style. Charlie, that's the latest way of puttin' spoons on. Amanda Reist did it for me."
"Amanda Reist," said Mr. Landis. "Why didn't she stay for supper if she was here when you set the table?"
"I asked her to but she couldn't."
"Oh," the guest said, "I think Amanda is the sweetest girl. I just love her!"
"Me, too," added Mary. "She's my teacher."
"Mine too," said Katie. "I like her."
The Landis children were taught politeness according to the standards of their parents, but they had never been told that they should be seen and not heard. Meal-time at the Landis farm was not a quiet time. The children were encouraged to repeat any interesting happening of the day and there was much laughter and genial conversation and frank expressions about the taste of the food.
"Um, ain't that short cake good!" said Charlie, smacking his lips.
"Delicious, lovely!" agreed the guest.
"Here, have another piece," urged Mrs. Landis. "I always make enough for two times around."
"Mom takes care of us, all right," testified Mr. Landis.
"Lovely, I'm sure," Isabel said with a bright smile.
And so the dinner hour sped and at length all rose and Martin, tagged by two of the younger boys, showed Isabel the garden and yard, while Mrs. Landis with the aid of Mary and one of the boys cleared off and washed the dishes. Then the entire family gathered on the big porch and the time passed so quickly in the soft June night that the guest declared it had seemed like a mere minute.
"This is the most lovely, adorable family," she told them. "I've had a wonderful time. How I hate to go back to the noisy city! How I envy you this lovely porch on such nights!"
Later, when Martin returned from seeing the visitor back to Lancaster, his parents were sitting alone on the porch.
"Well, Mother, Dad, what do you think of her?" he asked in his boyish eagerness to have their opinion of the girl he thought he was beginning to care for. "Isn't she nice?"
"Seems like a very nice girl," said his mother with measured enthusiasm.
"Oh, Mother," was the boy's impatient answer, "of course you wouldn't think any girl was good enough for your boy! I can see that. If an angel from heaven came down after me you'd find flaws in her."
"Easy, Mart," cautioned the father. "Better put on the brakes a bit. Your mom and I think about the same, I guess, that the girl's a likely enough lady and she surely is easy to look at, but she ain't what we'd pick out for you if we had the say. It's like some of these here fancy ridin' horses people buy. They're all right for ridin' but no good for hitchin' to a plow. You don't just want a wife that you can play around with and dress pretty and amuse yourself with. You need a wife that'll work with you and be a partner and not fail you when trouble comes. Think that over, Mart."
"Gosh, you talk as though I had asked her to marry me. We are just good friends. I enjoy visiting her and hearing her play."
"Yes, Martin, I know, but life ain't all piano playin' after you get married, is it, Mom?"
Mrs. Landis laughed. "No, it's often other kinds of music! But I'm not sorry I'm married." "Me neither," confirmed her husband. "And that, Mart, is what you want to watch for when you pick a wife. Pick one so that after you been livin' together thirty years you can both say you're not sorry you married. That's the test!"
"Oh, some test!" the boy said drearily. "I—I guess you're right, both of you. I guess it isn't a thing to rush into. But you don't know Isabel. She's really a lovely, sweet girl."
"Of course she is," said his mother. "You just hold on to her and go see her as often as you like. Perhaps when you've been at the bank a while longer and can afford to get married you'll find she's the very one you want. Any one you pick we'll like."
"Yes, of course, yes," said Mr. Landis. Wise parents! They knew that direct opposition to the choice of the son would frustrate their hopes for him. Let him go on seeing the butterfly and perhaps the sooner he'd outgrow her charms, they thought.
But later, as Mr. Landis unlaced his shoes and his wife took off her white Mennonite cap and combed her hair for the night, that mild man sputtered and stormed. All the gentle acquiescence was fallen from him. "That empty-headed doll has got our Mart just wrapped round her finger! All she can say is 'Delicious, lovely, darling!'"
Mrs. Landis laughed at his imitation of the affected Isabel.
"Good guns, Mom, if any of our boys tie up with a doll like that it'll break our hearts. Why couldn't Mart pick a sensible girl that can cook and ain't too tony nor lazy to do it? A girl like Amanda Reist, now, would be more suited to him. Poor Mart, he's bamboozled if he gets this one! But if we told him that he'd be so mad he'd run to-morrow and marry her. We got to be a little careful, I guess."
"Ach, yes, he'll get over it. He's a whole lot like you and I don't believe he'd marry a girl like that."
"Well, let's hope he shows as good taste when he picks a wife as I did, ain't, Mom?"
AUNT REBECCA'S WILL
That summer Aunt Rebecca became ill. Millie volunteered to take care of her.
"She ain't got no child to do for her," said the hired girl, "and abody feels forlorn when you're sick. I'll go tend her if you want."
"Oh, Millie, I'd be so glad if you'd go! Strangers might be ugly to her, for she's a little hard to get along with. And I can't do it to take care of her."
"You—well, I guess you ain't strong enough to do work like that. If she gets real sick she'll have to be lifted around and she ain't too light, neither. If you and Amanda can shift here I'll just pack my telescope and go right over to Landisville."
So Millie packed and strapped her old gray telescope and went to wait on the sick woman.
She found Aunt Rebecca in bed, very ill, with a kind neighbor ministering to her.
"My goodness, Millie," she greeted the newcomer, "I never was so glad to see anybody like I am you! You pay this lady for her trouble. My money is in the wash-stand drawer. Lock the drawer open and get it out"
After the neighbor had been paid and departed Millie and the sick woman were left alone. "Millie," said Aunt Rebecca, "you stay with me till I go. Ach, you needn't tell me I'll get well. I know I'm done for. I don't want a lot o' strangers pokin' round in my things and takin' care of me. I'm crabbit and they don't have no patience."
"Ach, you'll be around again in no time," said Millie cheerfully. "Don't you worry. I'll run everything just like it ought to be. I'll tend you so good you'll be up and about before you know it."
"I'm not so easy fooled. I won't get out of this room till I'm carried out, I know. My goodness, abody thinks back over a lot o' things when you get right sick once! I made a will, Millie, and a pretty good one," the sick woman laughed as if in enjoyment of a pleasant secret. Her nurse attributed the laughter to delirium. But Aunt Rebecca went on, astonishing the other woman more and deepening the conviction that the strange talk was due to flightiness.
"Yes, I made a will! Some people'll say I was crazy, but you tell them for me I'm as sane as any one. My goodness, can't abody do what abody wants with your own money? Didn't I slave and scratch and skimp like everything all my life! And you bet I'm goin' to give that there money just where I want!"
"Ach, people always fuss about wills. It gives them something to talk about," said Millie, thinking argument useless.
"Yes, it won't worry me. I won't hear it. I have it all fixed where and how I want to be buried, and all about the funeral. I want to have a nice funeral, eat in the meeting-house, and have enough to eat, too. I was to a funeral once and everything got all before all the people had eaten. I was close livin', but I ain't goin' to be close dead."
"Now you go to sleep," ordered Millie. "You can tell me the rest some other time."
That evening as Millie sat on a low rocker by the bedside, the dim flare of an oil lamp flickering on the faces of the two women, Aunt Rebecca told more of the things she was so eager to detail while strength lasted.
"Jonas always thought that if I lived longest half of what I have should go back to the Miller people, his side of the family. But I tell you, Millie, none of them ever come to see me except one or two who come just for the money. They was wishin' long a'ready I'd die and they'd get it. But Jonas didn't put that in the will. He left me everything and he did say once I could do with it what I want. So I made a will and I'm givin' them Millers five thousand dollars in all and the rest—well, you'll find out what I done with the rest after I'm gone. I never had much good out my money and I'm havin' a lot of pleasure lyin' here and thinkin' what some people will do with what I leave them in my will. I had a lot of good that way a'ready since I'm sick. People will have something to talk about once when I die."
And so the sick woman rambled on, while Millie thought the fever caused the strange words and paid little attention to their import. But, several weeks later, when the querulous old woman closed her eyes in her long, last sleep, Millie, who had nursed her so faithfully, remembered each detail of the funeral as Aunt Rebecca had told her and saw to it that every one was carried out.
According to her wishes, Aunt Rebecca was robed in white for burial. The cashmere dress was fashioned, of course, after the garb she had worn so many years, and was complete with apron, pointed cape, all in white. Her hair was parted and folded under a white cap as it had been in her lifetime. She looked peaceful and happy as she lay in the parlor of her little home in Landisville. A smile seemed to have fixed itself about her lips as though the pleasant thoughts her will had occasioned lingered with her to the very last.
She had stipulated that short services be held at the house, then the body taken to the church and a public service held and after interment in the old Mennonite graveyard at Landisville, a public dinner to be served in the basement of the meeting-house, as is frequently the custom in that community.
The service of the burial of the dead is considered by the plain sects as a sacred obligation to attend whenever possible. Relatives, friends, and members of the deceased's religious sect, drive many miles to pay their last respects to departed ones. The innate hospitality of the Pennsylvania Dutch calls for the serving of a light lunch after the funeral. Relatives, friends, who have come from a distance or live close by, and all others who wish to partake of it, are welcomed. Therefore most meeting-houses of the plain sects have their basements fitted with long tables and benches, a generous supply of china and cutlery, a stove big enough for making many quarts of coffee. And after the burial willing hands prepare the food and many take advantage of the proffered hospitality and file to the long tables, where bread, cheese, cold meat, coffee and sometimes beets and pie, await them. This was an important portion of what Aunt Rebecca called a "nice funeral," and it was given to her.
Later in the day, while the nearest relatives were still together in the little house at Landisville, the lawyer arrived and read the will.
The Millers, who were so eager for their legacies, were impatient with all the legal phrasing, "Being of sound mind" and so forth. They sat up more attentively when the lawyer read, "do hereby bequeath."
First came the wish that all real estate be sold, that personal property be given to her sister, the sum of five hundred dollars be given to the Mennonite Church at Landisville for the upkeep of the burial ground. Then the announcement of the sum of five thousand dollars to be equally divided among the heirs of Jonas Miller, deceased, the sum of five thousand dollars to her brother Amos Rohrer, a like amount to her sister, Mrs. Reist, the sum of ten thousand dollars to Martin Landis, husband of Elizabeth Anders, and the remainder, if any, to be divided equally between said brother Amos and sister Mary.
"Martin Landis!" exploded one of the Miller women, "who under the sun is he? To get ten thousand dollars of Rebecca's money!"
"I'll tell you," spoke up Uncle Amos, "he's an old beau of hers."
"Well, who ever heard of such a thing! And here we are, her own blood, you might say, close relations of poor Jonas, and we get only five thousand to be divided into about twenty shares! It's an outrage! Such a will ought to be broken!"
"I guess not," came Uncle Amos's firm reply. "It was all Rebecca's money and hers to do with what suited her. She's made me think a whole lot more of her by this here will. I'm glad to know she didn't forget her old beau. She was a little prickly on the outside sometimes, but I guess her heart was soft after all. It's all right, it's all right, that will is! It ain't for us to fuss about. She could have give the whole lot of it to some cat home or spent it while she lived. It was hers! If that's all, lawyer, I guess we'll go. Mary and I are satisfied and the rest got to be. I bet Rebecca got a lot o' good thinkin' how Martin Landis would get the surprise of his life when she was in her grave."
In a short time the news spread over the rural community that Rebecca Miller willed Martin Landis ten thousand dollars! Some said facetiously that it might be a posthumous thank-offering for what she missed when she refused to marry him. Others, keen for romance, repeated a sentimental story about a broken heart and a lifelong sorrow because of her foolish inability to see what was best for her and how at the close of her life she conceived the beautiful thought of leaving him the money so that he might know she had never forgotten him and so that he might remember his old sweetheart. But in whatever form the incident was presented it never failed to evoke interest. "Ten thousand dollars from an old girl! What luck!" exclaimed many.
If persons not directly concerned in the ten thousand dollar legacy were surprised what word can adequately describe the emotion of Martin Landis when Amanda's verbal report of it was duly confirmed by a legal notice from the lawyer!
"Good guns, Mom!" the man said in astonishment. "I can't make it out! I can't get head nor tail out the thing. What ailed Becky, anyhow? To do a thing like that! I feel kinda mean takin' so much money. It ought to go to Amos and Mary. They got five thousand apiece and somebody said the farms will bring more than Becky thought and by the time they are sold and everything divided Amos and Mary will get about eleven thousand each. It's right for them to get it, but it don't seem right for me to have it."
But Millie soon paid a visit to the Landis home and repeated many of the things Aunt Rebecca had told her those last evenings by the light of the little oil lamp. "She said, Mr. Landis, that one day she was lookin' at the big Bible and come across an old valentine you sent her when you and she was young. It said on it, 'If I had the world I'd give you half of it.' And that set her thinkin' what a nice surprise she could fix up if she'd will you some of her money. And she said, too, that Jonas was a good man but it worried her that she broke off with a poor man to marry a rich one when she liked the poor one best. I guess all that made her so queer and crabbit. She never let on when she was well that she wished she'd married you but when she come to die she didn't care much if it was found out. You just take that there money and enjoy it; that's what Rebecca wanted you should do."
"Yes, I guess she wanted me to have it," the man said thoughtfully. "But it beats me why she did it. Why, I'd almost forgot that I ever kept company with her and was promised to marry her. It's so long ago."
"Men do forget," said Millie. "I guess it's the women that remember. But the money's for you, that's her will, and she said I should be sure to see that the will is carried out and that the money goes where she said."
"Yes—we can use it. We'll be glad for it. I wish I could say thanks to Becky for it. It don't seem right by Amos and Mary, though."
"Ach, they don't need it. They got lots a'ready. The only ones that begrudge it are the relations of Jonas. None of them come to shake up a pillow for poor Rebecca or bring her an orange or get her a drink of water, but they come when the will was read. I just like to see such people get fooled! They wanted a lot and got a little and you didn't expect nothin' and look what you got! There's some nice surprises in the world, for all, ain't!"