MARTIN'S DARK HOUR
That summer Martin Landis was well pleased with the world in general. He enjoyed his work at the bank, where his cordiality and adeptness, his alert, receptive mind, were laying for him a strong foundation for a successful career.
He called often at the home of Isabel Souders, listened to her playing, made one in an occasional game of cards, escorted her to musicals and dramas. He played and talked and laughed with her, but he soon discovered that he could not interest her in any serious matter. At the mention of his work, beyond the merest superficialities, she lifted her hands and said in laughing tones, "Please, Martin, don't talk shop! Father never does. I'm like Mother, I don't want to hear the petty details of money-making—all that interests me is the money itself. Dad says I'm spoiled—I suppose I am."
At such times the troublesome memory of his father's words came to him, "You need a wife that will work with you and be a partner and not fail you when trouble comes." Try as he would the young man could not obliterate those haunting words from his brain. Sometimes he felt almost convinced in his own heart that he loved Isabel Souders—she was so appealing and charming and, while she rebuffed his confidences about his work, nevertheless showed so deep an interest in him generally, that he was temporarily blinded by it and excused her lack of real interest on the world-old ground that pretty women are not supposed to bother about prosaic affairs of the male wage-earners of the race.
There were moments when her beauty so thrilled him that he felt moved to tell her he loved her and wanted to marry her, but somewhere in the subconscious mind of him must have dwelt the succinct words of the poster, "When in doubt, don't!" So the moments of fascination passed and the words of love were left unsaid.
"Some day," he thought, "I'll know, I'll be sure. It will probably come to me like a flash of lightning whether I love her or not. I shouldn't be so undecided. I think if it were the real thing I feel for her there would be not the shadow of a doubt in my heart concerning it. A man should feel that the woman he wants to marry is the only one in the universe for him. Somehow, I can't feel that about her. But there's no hurry about marrying. We'll just go on being capital friends. Meanwhile I can be saving money so that if the time comes when I marry I'll be able to support a wife. Things look pretty rosy for me at present. Since Father is fixed with that legacy and the boys are old enough to take my place on the farm I have time to study and advance. I'm in luck all around; guess I got a horseshoe round my neck!"
But the emblem of good luck must have soon lost its potency. The bank force was surprised one day by an unexpected examination of the books.
"What's the trouble?" asked Martin of another worker in the bank.
"I don't know. Ask old Buehlor. He acts as though he knew."
Martin approached the gray-haired president, who was stamping about his place like an angry dog on leash. "Anything the matter, sir? Can I help in any way?"
"Why, yes, there seems to be," he snapped. "Come in, Landis." He opened the door of his private office and Martin followed him inside. He gave one long look into the face of the young man—"I'm going to tell you. Perhaps you can make things easier for us to adjust in case there's anything wrong. An investigation has been ordered. One of our heaviest depositors seems to have some inside information that some one is spending the bank's money for personal use."
"Good guns! In this bank? A thief?" Horror was printed on the face of Martin.
The man opposite searched that face. "Yes—I might as well tell you—I feel like a brute to do so—if it's false it's a damnable trick, for such a thing is a fiendish calumny for an honest man to bear—you're the man under suspicion."
Martin sat up, his eyes wide in horror, then his chest collapsed and his neck felt limber. "Oh, my God," he whispered, as though in appeal to the Infinite Father of Mercy and Justice, "what a thing to say about me! What a lie!"
"It's a lie?" asked the older man tersely.
"Absolutely! I've never stolen anything since the days I wore short pants and climbed the neighbors' trees for apples. Who says it?"
"Well, I can't divulge that now. Perhaps later."
Martin groaned. To be branded a thief was more than he could bear. His face went whiter.
"See here," said the old man, "I almost shocked you to death, but I had a purpose in it. I couldn't believe that of you and knew I'd be able to read your face. You know, I believe you! It's all some infernal mistake or plot. You're not a clever enough actor to feign such distress and innocence. Go out and get some air and come back to-morrow morning. I'll stand for you in the meantime. I believe in you."
"Thank you, sir," Martin managed to blurt out between dry lips that seemed almost paralyzed. "I'll be back in the morning. Hope you'll find I'm telling the truth."
He walked as a somnambulist down the street. In his misery he thought of Isabel Souders. He would go to her for comfort. She'd understand and believe in him! He yearned like a hurt child for the love and tenderness of some one who could comfort him and sweep the demons of distress from his soul. He wanted to see Isabel, only Isabel! He felt relieved that no older member of the household was at home at that time, that the colored servant who answered his ring at the bell said Isabel was alone and would see him at once.
"What's wrong?" the girl asked as she entered the room where he waited for her. "You look half dead!"
"I am, Isabel," he said chokingly. "I've had a death-blow. They are accusing me of stealing the bank's money."
"Oh, Martin! Oh, how dreadful! I'll never forgive you!" The girl spoke in tearful voice. "How perfectly dreadful to have such a thing said after Father got you into the bank! Your reputation is ruined for life! You can never live down such a disgrace."
"But I didn't do it!" he cried. "You must know I couldn't have done it!"
"Oh, I suppose you didn't if you say so, but people always are ready to say that where there's smoke there must be some fire! Oh, dear, people know you're a friend of mine and next thing the papers will link our names in the notoriety and—oh, what a dreadful thing to happen! They'll print horrible things about you and may drag me into it, too! Say you spent the money on me, or something like that! Father will be so mortified and sorry he helped you. Oh, dear, I think it's dreadful, dreadful!" She burst into weeping.
As Martin watched her and listened to her utterly selfish words, in spite of the misery in his heart, he was keenly conscious that she was being weighed in the balance and found wanting. The lightning flash had come to him and revealed how impotent she was, how shallow and selfish.
"Well, don't cry about it," he said, half bitterly, yet too crushed to be aught but gentle. "It won't hurt you. I'll see to that. If there's anything to bear I'll bear it alone. My shoulders are broad."
There was more futile exchange of words, words that lacked any comfort or hope for the broken-hearted man. Martin soon left and started for his home.
Home—he couldn't go there and tell his people that he was suspected of a crime. Home—its old sweet meaning would be changed for all of them if one of its flock was blackened.
He flurried past the Reist farmhouse, head down like a criminal so that none should recognize him. With quick steps that almost merged into a run he went up the road. When he reached the little Crow Hill schoolhouse a sudden thought came to him. He climbed the rail fence and entered the woods, plodded up the hill to the spot where Amanda's moccasins grew each spring. There he threw himself on the grassy slope, face down, and gave vent to his despair.
Amanda Reist knew the woods so well that she never felt any fear as she wandered about in them. That August morning as she climbed the fence by the school-yard and sauntered along the narrow paths between the trees she hummed a little song—not because of any particular happiness, but because the sky was blue and the woods were green and she loved to be outdoors.
She climbed the narrow trail, gathering early goldenrod, which she suddenly dropped, and stood still. Before her, a distance of about twenty feet, lay the figure of a man, face down on the ground, his arms flung out, his hair disheveled. A great fear rose in her heart. Was it a tramp, an intoxicated wanderer, was he dead? She shrank from the sight and took a few backward steps, feeling a strong impulse to run, yet held riveted to the spot by some inexplicable, irresistible force.
The figure moved slightly—why, it looked like Martin Landis! But he wouldn't be lying so in the grass at that time of day! The face of the man was suddenly turned to her and a cry came from her lips—it was Martin Landis! But what a Martin Landis! Haggard and lined, his face looked like the face of a debilitated old man.
"Martin," she called, anxiously. "Martin!"
He raised his head and leaned on his elbow. "Oh," he groaned, then turned his head away.
She ran to him then and knelt beside him in the grass. "What's wrong, Martin?" she asked, all the love in her heart rushing to meet the need of her "knight." "Tell me what's the matter."
"They say I'm a thief!"
"Who says so?" she demanded, a Xantippe-like flash in her eyes.
"The bank, they're examining the books, swooped down like a lot of vultures and hunting for carrion right now."
"For goodness' sake! Martin! Sit up and tell me about it! Don't cover your face as though you were a thief! Of course there's some mistake, there must be! Get up, tell me. Let's sit over on that old log and get it straightened out."
Spurred by her words he raised himself and she mechanically brushed the dry leaves from his coat as they walked to a fallen log and sat down.
"Now tell me," she urged, "the whole story."
Haltingly he told the tale, though the process hurt.
"And you ran away," she exclaimed when he had finished. "You didn't wait to see what the books revealed? You ran right out here?"
"Yes—no, I stopped at Isabel's."
"Oh"—Amanda closed her eyes a moment—it had been Isabel first again! She quickly composed herself to hear what the city girl had done in the man's hour of trial. "Isabel didn't believe it, of course?" she asked quietly.
"No, I suppose she didn't. But she cried and fussed and said my reputation was ruined for life and even if my innocence is proved I can never wholly live down such a reputation. She was worried because the thing may come out in the papers and her name brought into it. She's mighty much upset about Isabel Souders, didn't care a picayune about Martin Landis."
"She'll get over it," Amanda told him, a lighter feeling in her heart. "What we are concerned about now is Martin Landis. You should have stayed and seen it through, faced them and demanded the lie to be traced to its source. Why, Martin, cheer up, this can't harm you!"
"My reputation," he said gloomily.
"Yes, your reputation is what people think you are, but your character is what you really are. A noble character can often change a very questionable reputation. You know you are honest as the day is long—we are all sure of that, all who know you. Martin, nothing can hurt you! People can make you unhappy by such lies and cause the road to be a little harder to travel but no one except yourself can ever touch you! Your character is impregnable. Brace up! Go back and tell them it's a lie and then prove it!"
"Amanda"—the man's voice quavered. "Amanda, you're an angel! You make me buck up. When you found me I felt as though a load of bricks were thrown on my heart, but I'm beginning to see a glimmer of light. Of course, I can prove I'm innocent!"
"Listen, look!" Amanda whispered. She laid a hand upon his arm while she pointed with the other to a tree near by.
There sat an indigo bunting, that tiny bird of blue so intense that the very skies look pale beside it and among all the blue flowers of our land only the fringed gentian can rival it. With no attempt to hide his gorgeous self he perched in full view on a branch of the tree and began to sing in rapid notes. What the song lacked in sweetness was quite forgotten as they looked at the lovely visitant.
"There's your blue bunting of hope," said Amanda as the bird suddenly became silent as though he were out of breath or too tired to finish the melody.
"He's wonderful," said Martin, a light of hope once more in his eyes.
"Yes, he is wonderful, not only because of his fine color but because he's the one bird that sultry August weather can't still. When all others are silent he sings, halts a while, then sings again. That is why I said he is your blue bunting of hope. Isn't it like that with us? When other feelings are gone hope stays with us, never quite deserts us—hear him!"
True to his reputation the indigo bird burst once more into song, then off he flew, still singing his clear, rapid notes.
"Amanda," the man said as the blue wings carried the bird out of sight, "you've helped me—I can't tell you how much! I'm going back to the bank and face that lie. If I could only find out who started it!"
"I don't know, but I'd like to bet Mr. Mertzheimer is back of it, somehow. The old man is a heavy depositor there, isn't he?"
"Yes, but why under the sun would he say such a thing about me? I never liked Lyman and he had no love for me, but he has no cause to bear me ill will. I haven't anything he wants, I'm sure."
"No?" The girl bit her lip and felt her cheeks burn.
Martin looked at her, amazed. Why was she blushing? Surely, she didn't like Lyman Mertzheimer!
"Oh, Martin," she was thinking, "how blind you are! You do have something Lyman Mertzheimer wants. I can see through it all. He thinks with you disgraced I'll have eyes for him at last. The cheat! The cheat!" she said out loud.
"What?" asked Martin.
"He's a cheat, Lyman is. I hope he gets what's coming to him some day and I get a chance to see it! You see if that precious father of his is not at the bottom of all this worry for you!"
"It may be. I'm going in to Lancaster and find out. If he is, and if I ever get my hands on him—-"
"Good-bye Lyman!" said Amanda, laughing. "But you wouldn't want to touch anything as low as he is."
"I'd hate to have the chance; I'd pound him to jelly."
"Oh, no, you wouldn't. You'd just look at him and he'd shrivel till he'd look like a dried crabapple snitz!"
Both laughed at the girl's words. A moment later they rose from the old log and walked down the path. When they had climbed the fence and stood in the hot, sunny road Martin said, "I guess I'll go home and get cleaned up." He rubbed a hand through his tumbled hair.
"And get something to eat," she added. "By that time you'll be ready, like Luther, to face a horde of devils."
"Thanks to you," he said. "I'll never forget this half-hour just gone. Your blue bunting of hope will be singing in my heart whenever things go wrong. You said a few things to me that I couldn't forget if I wanted to—for instance, that nothing, nobody, can hurt me, except myself. That's something to keep in mind. I feel equal to fight now, fight for my reputation. Some kind providence must have sent you up the hill to find me."
"Ach," she said depreciatively, "I didn't do a thing but steady you up a bit. I'm glad I happened to come up and see you. Go tell them if they're hunting for a thief they're looking in the wrong direction when they look at Martin Landis! Hurry! So you can get back before they think you've run away. I'll be so anxious to hear how much the Mertzheimers have to do with this. I can see their name written all over it!"
Smiling, almost happy again, the man turned down the road to his home and Amanda went on to the Reist farmhouse. She, too, was smiling as she went. She had read between the lines of the man's story and had seen there the moving finger writing above the name of Isabel Souders, "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin."
When Martin Landis entered the bank early in the afternoon of that same day he presented a different appearance from that of his departure in the morning. His head was held erect, his step determined, as he opened the swinging door of the bank and entered.
"What—Landis, you back?" Mr. Buehlor greeted him, while the quizzical eyes of the old man looked into those of the younger.
"I'm back and I'm back to get this hideous riddle solved and the slate washed clean."
"Come in, come in!" Mr. Buehlor drew him into a little room and closed the door. "Sit down, Landis."
"Well, how much is the bank short?" He looked straight into the eyes of the man who, several hours before, had dealt him such a death-blow.
"So far everything is right, right as rain! There's a mistake or a damnable dirty trick somewhere."
"Let's sift it out, Mr. Buehlor. Will you tell me who had the 'inside information' that I was taking bank's money?"
"I'll tell you! It was a farmer near your home—-"
"Mr. Mertzheimer?" offered Martin.
"The same! He asked to have you watched, then changed it and insisted on having the books examined. Said your people are poor—forgive me, Landis, but I have to tell you the whole story."
"Don't mind that. That's a mere scratch after what I got this morning."
"Well, he said your father had a mortgage on his farm up to the time you came to work in the bank, then suddenly it was paid and soon after the house was painted, a new bathroom installed, electric lights put into the house and steam heat, a Victrola and an automobile bought. In fact, your people launched out as though they had found a gold mine, and that in spite of the fact that your crop of tobacco was ruined by hail and the other income from the farm products barely enough to keep things going until another harvest. He naturally thought you must have a hand in supplying the money and with your moderate salary you couldn't do half of that. He talked with several of the bank directors and an investigation was ordered. You'll admit his story sounded plausible. It looked pretty black for you."
"To you, yes! But not to him! Mr. Mertzheimer knows well enough where that money came from. My father had a legacy of ten thousand dollars this spring. You people could have found that out with very little trouble."
"We're a pack of asinine blunderers, Landis!" Mr. Buehlor looked foolish. Then he sighed relievedly. "That clears matters for you. I'm glad. I couldn't conceive of you as anything but honest, Landis. But tell me about that legacy—a pretty nice sum."
"It's a romantic little story. An old sweetheart of my father, one who must have carried under her prickly exterior a bit of tender romance and who liked to do things other people never dreamed of doing, left him ten thousand dollars. She was a queer old body. Had no direct heirs, so she left Father ten thousand dollars for a little remembrance! It was that honest money that paid for the conveniences in our house, the second-hand car Father bought and the Victrola he gave Mother because we are all crazy for music and had nothing to create any melody except an old parlor organ that sounded wheezy after nine babies had played on it."
"Landis, forgive me; we're a set of fools!" The old man extended his hand and looked humbly into the face of Martin. The two gripped hands, each feeling emotion too great for words.
After a moment's silence Mr. Buehlor spoke.
"This goes no farther. Your reputation is as safe as mine. If I have anything to say you'll be eligible for the first vacancy in the line of advancement. As for that Mertzheimer, he can withdraw his account from our bank to-day for all we care. We can do business without him. But it puzzles me—what object did he have? If he knew of the legacy, and he certainly did, he must have known you were O.K. Is he an enemy of yours?"
"Not particularly. I never liked his son but we never had any real tilts."
"You don't happen to want the same girl he wants, or anything like that?"
"No—well now—why, I don't know!" A sudden revelation came to Martin. Perhaps Lyman thought he had a rival in him. That would explain much. "There's a son, as I said, and we know a girl I think he's been crazy about for years. Perhaps he thinks I'm after her, too."
"I see," chuckled the old man. "Well, if the girl's the right sort she won't have to toss a penny to decide which one to choose." He noted the embarrassment of Martin and changed the subject.
But later in the afternoon as Martin walked down the road from the trolley and drew near the Reist farmhouse the old man's words recurred to him. Why, he'd known Amanda Reist all his life! He had never dreamed she could comfort and help a man as she had done that morning in the woods. Amanda was a fine girl, a great pal, a woman with a heart.
Now Isabel—a great disgust rose in him for the sniveling, selfish little thing and her impotence in the face of his trouble. "She's just the kind to play with," he thought, "just a doll, and like the doll, has as much heart as a thing stuffed with sawdust can have. I guess it took this jolt to wake me up and know that Isabel Souders is not the type of girl for me."
When he reached the Reist home he found Amanda and her Uncle Amos on the porch.
"Oh, it's all right!" the girl cried as he came into the yard. "I can read it in your face." Gladness rang in her voice like a bell.
"It's all right," Martin told her.
"Good! I'm glad," said Uncle Amos while Amanda smiled her happiness.
"Was I right?" she asked. "Was it the work of Mertzheimers?"
"It was. They must hate me like poison."
"Ach, he's a copperhead," said Uncle Amos. "He's so pesky low and mean he can't bear to see any one else be honest. You're gettin' up too far to suit him. It's always so that when abody climbs up the ladder a little there's some settin' at the foot ready to joggle it, and the higher abody climbs the more are there to help try to shake you down. I guess there's mean people everywheres, even in this here beautiful Garden Spot. But to my notion you got to just go on doin' right and not mind 'em. They'll get what they earn some day. Nobody has yet sowed weeds and got a crop of potatoes from it."
"But," said the girl, "I can't understand it. The Mertzheimer people come from good families and they have certainly been taught to be different. I can't see where they get their mean streak. With all their money and chance to improve and opportunities for education and culture—-"
"Ach, money"—said Uncle Amos—"what good does money do them if they don't have the right mind to use it? My granny used to say still you can tie a silk ribbon round a pig's neck but she'll wallow in the dirt just the same first chance she'll get. I guess some people are like that. Well, Martin, I'm goin' in to tell Millie—the women—it's all right with you. They was so upset about it. And won't Millie talk!" He chuckled at the thought of what that staunch woman would say about Mr. Mertzheimer. "Millie can hit the nail on the head pretty good, pretty good," he said as he ambled into the house.
Martin lingered on the porch with Amanda till the sound of the Landis supper bell called him home.
DINNER AT LANDIS'S
The following afternoon little Katie Landis came running down the road and in at the Reist gate. She greeted Amanda with, "Mom says you got to come to our place for supper."
"Yes. She's goin' to kill two chickens and have a big time and she wants you to come."
"Anybody coming? Any company?"
"No, just you."
"All right. Tell Mother I said thank you and I'll be glad to come."
"All right, I'll run and tell her. I'm in a hurry, for me and Emma's playin' house and I got to get back to my children before they miss me and set up a howlin'." She looked very serious as she ran off down the lane, Amanda smiling after her.
Later, as the girl went down the road to the Landis home she wondered whose birthday it might be, or what the cause of celebration. The child had been in such great haste—but what matter the significance of the festivity so long as she was asked to enjoy it!
"Here's Amanda!" shouted several of the children gleefully, very boldly dropping the Miss they were obliged to use during school hours.
The guest found Mrs. Landis stirring up a blackberry pone, the three youngest Landis children watching the progress of it.
"Oh, hello, Amanda. I'm glad you got here early. Look at these children, all waitin' for the dish to lick. Don't it beat all how children like raw dough! I used to, but I wouldn't eat it now if you paid me."
"So did I. Millie chased me many a time."
"Well, people's tastes change in more than one way when they get older. I guess it's a good thing. Here, Katie, take that doll off of that chair so Amanda can find a place to sit down. You got every chair in the house littered up with things. Ach, Amanda, I scold still about their things laying round but I guess folks that ain't got children would sometimes be glad if they could see toys and things round the place. They get big soon enough and the dolls are put away. My, this will be an awful lonely house when the children all grow up! I'd rather see it this way, with their things scattered all around. But the boys are worse than the girls. What Charlie don't have in his pants pocket ain't in the 'cyclopedia. Martin was that way, too. He had an old box in the wood-shed and it was stuffed with all the twine and wire and nails he could find. But now, Amanda, ain't it good he got that all made right at the bank so they know he ain't a thief?
My, that was an awful sin for Mr. Mertzheimer to make our Mart out a thief! I just wonder how he could be so mean and ugly. I guess you wonder why I asked you up to-night. It ain't nothin' special, just a little good time because Martin got proved honest again. I just said to Mister this morning that I'm so glad for Martin I feel like makin' something extra for supper and ask you up for you ain't been here for a meal for long."
"It's grand to ask me to it."
"Ach, we don't mind you. You're just like one of the family, abody might say. We won't fix like for company, eat in the room or anything like that."
"Well, I hope not. I'm no company. Let's eat in the kitchen and have everything just as you do when the family's alone."
"Yes," agreed Mrs. Landis. "That will be more homelike."
Mary helped to set the table in the big kitchen.
"Shall I lay the spoons on the table-cloth like we did when Isabel was here?" she asked her mother.
"Better put them in the spoon-holder," Amanda told her. "I'm no company."
"I'm glad you ain't. I don't like tony company like that girl was. She put on too much when she talked. And she had the funniest cheeks! Once she wiped her face when it was hot and pink came off on her handkerchief."
Amanda laughed and kept smiling as she helped the child set the table for supper. Later she offered her services to Mrs. Landis. Martin, coming in from the dusty road, found her before the stove, one of his mother's gingham aprons tied around her waist, and turning sweet potatoes in a big iron pan.
"Why, hello!" he said, pleasure written in his face. "Katie ran to meet me and said I couldn't guess who was here for supper. Has Mother got you working? Um," he sniffed, "smells awful much like chicken!"
"Ach," his mother told him, "you just hold your nose shut a while! You and your pop can smell chicken off a mile. But you dare ring the supper bell, Martin, before you go up-stairs to wash, so your pop and the boys can come in now and get ready, too."
Soon the savory, smoking dishes were all placed on the big table in the kitchen and the family with their guest gathered for the meal.
"Ain't I dare keep my coat off, Mom?" asked Mr. Landis, his face flushed from a long hot day in the fields.
"Why, yes, if Amanda don't care."
"Why should I? Look at my cool dress! Take your coat off, Martin. I never could see why men should roast while we keep comfortable."
As Martin stripped the serge coat off he thought of that other dinner when coats were kept on and dinner eaten in "the room" because of the presence of one who might take offense if she were expected to share the plain, every-day ways of the family. What a fool he had been! Their best efforts at style and convention must have looked very amateurish and incomplete to her—what a fool he had been!
"Ah, that looks good!" Mr. Landis said after he had said grace and everybody waited for the food to be passed. "Now we'll just hand the platter around and let everybody help themselves, not so, Mom?"
"Yes, that's all right. Start the potatoes once, Martin. Now you must eat, Amanda. Just make yourself right at home."
"Martin, you must eat hearty, too,", said the father. "Your mom made this supper for you."
"For me? What's the idea? Feeding the prodigal? Fatted calf and all that, Mother?" the boy asked, smiling,
"Calf—nothing!" exclaimed little Charlie. "It's them two roosters Mom said long a'ready she's goin' to kill once and cook and here they are!"
Charlie wondered why everybody laughed at that but he soon forgot about it as his mother handed him a plate piled high with food.
Amanda scarcely knew what she was eating that day. Each mouthful had the taste of nectar and ambrosia to her. If she could belong to a family like that! She adored her own people and felt certain that no one could wish for a finer family than the one in which she had been placed, but it seemed, by comparison with the Landis one, a very small, quiet family. She wished she could be a part of both, make the twelfth in that charming circle in which she sat that day.
After supper Mrs. Landis turned to Amanda—"Now you stay a while and hear our new pieces on the Victrola."
"I'll help you with the dishes," she offered.
"Ach, no, it ain't necessary. Mary and I will get them done up in no time. You just go in the room and enjoy yourself."
With little Katie leading the way and Martin following Amanda went to the sitting-room and sat down while Martin opened the Victrola.
"What do you like?" he asked. "Something lively? Or do you like soft music better?"
"I like both. What are your new pieces?"
"McCormack singing 'Mother Machree—-'"
"Oh, I like that! Play that!"
As the soft, haunting melody of "Mother Machree" sounded in the room Mrs. Landis came to the door of the sitting-room, dish towel in hand.
"Ach," she said after the last verse, "I got that record most wore out a'ready. Ain't it the prettiest song? When I hear that I think still that if only one of my nine children feels that way about me I'm more than paid for any bother I had with them."
"Then, Mother," said Martin, "you should feel more than nine times paid, for we all feel that way about you."
"Listen, now!" The mother's eyes were misty as she looked at her first- born. "Ach, play it again. I only hope poor Becky knows how much good her money's doin' us!"
Later Martin walked with Amanda up the moonlit road to her home. "I've had a lovely time, Martin," she told him. "You do have the nicest, lively family! I wish we had a tableful like that!"
"You wouldn't wish it at dish-washing time, I bet! But they are a lively bunch. I wonder sometimes how Mother escapes nerves. If she feels irritable or tired she seldom shows it. I believe six of us can ask her questions at once and she knows how to answer each in its turn. But Mother never does much useless worrying. That keeps her youthful and calm. She has often said to us, 'What's the use of worrying? Worrying never gets you anywhere except into hot water—so what's the use of it?' That's a pet philosophy of hers."
"I remember that. I've heard her say it. Your mother's wonderful!"
"She thinks the same about you, Amanda, for she said so the other day."
"Me?" The girl turned her face from him so that the moonlight might not reveal her joy.
"You," he said happily, laughing in boyish contentment. "We think Amanda Reist is all right."
The girl was glad they had reached the gate of her home. She fumbled with the latch and escaped an answer to the man's words. Then they spoke commonplace good-nights and parted.
That night as she brushed her hair she stood a long time before the mirror. "Amanda Reist," she said to the image in the glass, "you better take care—next thing you know you'll be falling in love!" She leaned closer to the glass. "Oh, I'll have to keep that shine from my eyes! It's there just because Martin walked home with me and was kind. I don't look as though I need any boneset tea now!"
The next morning Amanda helped her mother with the Saturday baking while Millie and Uncle Amos tended market.
"This hot weather the pies get soft till Sunday if we bake them a'ready on Friday," Mrs. Reist said to Millie, "so Amanda and I can do the bakin' while you go to market. I guess we'll have a lot of company again this Sunday, with church near here."
"All right, let 'em come," said the hired girl composedly. "I don't care if you don't. It's a good thing we all like company pretty good, for I think sometimes people take this place for a regular boarding- house, the way they drop in at any time, just as like when we're ready to set down for a meal as at any other hour. Philip said last week, when that Sallie Snyder dropped in just at dinner, that he's goin' to paint a sign, 'Mad Dog,' and hang it on the gate. But I think we might as well put one up, 'Meals served at all hours,' but ach, that's Lancaster County for you!"
Mrs. Reist liked to do her baking early in the day. So it happened that when Martin Landis stopped in to see Amanda before he went to his work in the city he saw on the kitchen table a long row of pies ready for the oven and Amanda deftly rolling the edge of another.
"Whew!" he whistled. "Mrs. Reist, is that your work or Amanda's so early in the morning?"
"Amanda's! My granny used to say still that no girl was ready to get married till she could roll out a thin pie dough. I guess my girl is almost ready, for she got hers nice and thin this morning. Ach," she thought in dismay as she saw the girl's face flush, "now why did I say that? I didn't think how it would sound. But Amanda needn't mind Martin!"
Merry little twinkles played around Martin's gray eyes as he answered, "I see. Looks as if Amanda's ready for a husband—if she's going to feed him on pies!"
"On pies—Martin Landis!" scorned the girl. "I'd have a dyspeptic on my hands after a few days of pie diet."
"Well, you'd make a pretty good nurse, I believe."
"Nurse—not me! The only thing I know how to nurse is hurt birds and lame bunnies and such things. You just lay them in a box and feed them, and if they get well you clap your hands, and if they die you put some leaves and flowers on them and bury them out in the woods—remember how we used to do that?"
"Do I? I should say I do! The time we had the fence hackey that Lyman Mertzheimer hurt with a stone—"
"Oh, and I nursed him and fed him, and when I let him go he bit my finger! I remember that! I was so cross at him I cried."
"Wretch that he was," said Martin. "But if we begin talking about those days I won't get to work. I stopped in to ask you to go berrying with us this afternoon. I get out of the bank early. We can go up to the woods back of the schoolhouse. The youngsters are anxious to go, and Mother won't let them go alone, since that copperhead was killed near here. I promised to take them, and we'd all like to have you come."
"I'd love to go. I'll be all ready. I haven't gone for blackberries all season."
"That's true, we've been missing lots of fun." He looked at her as though he were seeing her after a long absence. Somehow, he had missed something worth while from his life during the time his head had been turned by Isabel, and he had passed Amanda with a smile and a greeting and had no hours of companionship with her. Why, he didn't remember that her eyes were so bright, that her red hair waved so becomingly, that—
"I'll bring a kettle," she said. "I'm going to pick till I fill it, too, just as we did when we were youngsters."
"All right. We'll meet you at the schoolhouse."
The spur of mountains near Crow Hill was a favorite berrying range for the people of that section of Lancaster County. In July and August huckleberries, elders and blackberries grew there in fragrant luxuriance.
When Amanda, in an old dress of cool green, a wide-brimmed hat on her head, came in sight of the schoolhouse, she saw the Landis party approaching it from the other direction. She swung her tin pail in greeting.
"Oh, there's Amanda!" the children shouted and ran to meet her, tin pails clanging and dust flying.
Martin, too, wore old clothes that would be none the worse for meeting with briars or crushed berries. A wide straw hat perched on his head made Amanda think, "He looks like a grown-up edition of Whittier's Barefoot Boy."
"Here we are, all ready," said the leader, as they started off to the crude rail fence. Martin would have helped Amanda over the fence, but she ran from him, put up one foot, and was over it in a trice.
"Still a nimble-toes," he said, laughing. "Mary, can you do as well?"
"Pooh, yes! Who can't climb a fence?" The little girl was over it in a minute. The smaller children lay flat on the ground and squirmed through under the lower rail, while one of the boys climbed up, balanced himself on the top rail, then leaped into the grass.
"I see some berries!" cried Katie, and began to pick them.
"We'll go in farther," said Martin. "The bushes near the road have been almost stripped. Come on, keep on the path and watch out for snakes."
There was a well-defined, narrow trail through the timbered land. Though the weeds had been trodden down along each side of it there were dense portions where snakes might have found an ideal home. After a long walk the little party was in the heart of the woods and blackberry bushes, dark with clusters, waited for their hands. Berries soon rattled in the tin pails, though at first many a handful was eaten and lips were stained red by the sweet juice. They wandered from bush to bush, picking busily, with many exclamations—"Oh, look what a big bunch!" "My pail's almost full!" Little Katie and Charlie soon grew tired of the picking and wandered around the path in search of treasures. They found them—three pretty blue feathers, dropped, no doubt, by some screaming blue jay, a handful of green acorns in their little cups, a few pebbles that appealed to them, one lone, belated anemone, blooming months after its season.
The pails were almost filled and the party was moving up the woods to another patch of berries when little Mary turned to Amanda and said, "Ach, Amanda, tell us that story about the Bear Charm Song."
"Yes, do!" seconded Charlie. "The one you told us once in school last winter."
Amanda smiled, and as the little party walked along close together through the woods, she began:
"Once the Indians lived where we are living now—-"
"Oh, did they?" interrupted Charlie. "Real Indians, with bows and arrows and all?"
"Yes, real Indians, bows and arrows and all! They owned all the land before the white man came and drove them off. But now the Indians are far away from here and they are different from the ones we read about in the history books. The Indians now are more like the poor birds people put in cages—-" Her eyes gleamed and her face grew eloquent with expression as she thought of the gross injustice meted out to some of the red men in this land of the free.
"Go on, Manda, go on with the story," cried the children. Only Martin had seen the look in her eyes, that mother-look of compassion.
"Very well, I'll go on."
"And, Charlie," said Mary, "you keep quiet now and don't break in when Manda talks."
"Well," the story-teller resumed, "the Indians who lived out in the woods, far from towns or cities, had to find all their own food. They caught fish, shot animals and birds, planted corn and gathered berries. Some of them they ate at once, but many of them they dried and stored away for winter use. While the older Indians did harder work, the little Indian children ran off to the woods and gathered the berries. But one thing they had to look out for—bears! Great big bears lived in the woods and they are very fond of sweet things. The bears would amble along, peel great handfuls of ripe berries from the bushes with their big clawed paws and eat them. So all good Indian mothers taught their children a Bear Charm Song to sing as they gathered berries. Whenever the bears heard the Bear Charm Song they went to some other part of the woods and left the children to pick their berries unharmed. But once there was a little Indian boy who wouldn't mind his mother. He went to the woods one day to gather berries, but he wouldn't sing the Bear Charm Song, not he! So he picked berries and picked berries, and all of a sudden a great big bear stood by him. Then the little Indian boy, who wouldn't mind his mother, began to sing the Bear Charm Song. But it was too late. The great big bear put his big paws around the little boy and squeezed him, squeezed him, tighter and tighter and tighter—till the little boy who wouldn't mind his mother was changed into a tiny black bat. Then he flew back to his mother, but she didn't know him, and so she chased him and said, 'Go away! Little black bird of the night, go away!' And that is where the bats first came from."
"Ain't that a good story?" said Charlie as Amanda ended. "Tell us another."
"Not now. Perhaps after a while," she promised. "Here's another patch of berries. Shall we pick here?"
"Yes, fill the pails," said Martin, "then we'll be ready for the next number on the program. It seems Amanda's the committee of one to entertain us."
But the next number on the program was furnished by an unexpected participant. The berrying party was busy picking when a crash was heard as if some heavy body were running wild through the leaves and sticks of the woods near by.
"Oh," cried Charlie, "I bet that's a bear! Manda, sing a Bear Charm Song!"
"Oh," echoed Katie in alarm, and ran to the side of Amanda, while Martin lifted his head and stood, alert, looking into the woods in the direction of the noise. The crashing drew nearer, and then the figure of a man came running wildly through the bushes, waving his hands frantically in the air, then pressing them to his face.
"It's Lyman Mertzheimer!" Amanda exclaimed.
"With hornets after him," added Martin.
The children, reassured, ran to the newcomer.
It was Lyman Mertzheimer, his face distorted and swollen, his necktie streaming from one shoulder, where he had torn it in a mad effort to beat off the angry hornets whose nest he had disturbed out of sheer joy in the destruction and an audacious idea that no insect could scare him away or worst him in a fight. He had underestimated the fiery temper of the hornets and their concentrated and persistent methods of defending their home. After he had run wildly through the woods for fifteen minutes and struck out repeatedly the insects left him, just as he reached the berrying party. But the hornets had wreaked their anger upon him; face, hands and neck bore evidence of the battle they had waged.
"First time hornets got me!" he said crossly as he neared the little party. "Oh, you needn't laugh!" he cried in angry tones as Charlie snickered.
"But you look funny—all blotchy."
The stung man allowed his anger to burst out in oaths. "Guess you think it's funny, too," he said to Amanda.
"No. I'm sure it hurts," she said, though she knew he deserved no pity from her.
"We all know that it hurts," said Martin. But there was scant sympathy in his voice.
"Smear mud on," suggested Mary. "Once I got stung by a bumblebee when he went in a hollyhock and I held the flower shut so he couldn't get out, and he stung me through the flower. Mom put mud on and it helped."
"Mud!" stormed Lyman, stepping about in the bush and twisting his head in pain. "There isn't any mud in Lancaster County now. The whole place is dry as punk!"
"If you had some of the mud you slung at me recently it would come in handy now," Martin could not refrain from saying.
Another oath greeted his words. Then the stung young man started off down the road to find relief from his smarts, ignoring the fling.
"Well," said Amanda, "well, of all things! For him to tackle a hornets' nest! Just for the fun of it!"
"But he got his come-uppance for once! Got it from the hornets," said Martin. "Serves him right."
"But that hurts," said Mary sympathetically. "Hornets hurt awful bad!"
"Yes," said Martin as they turned homeward. "But he's getting paid for all the mean tricks he's played on other people."
"Mebbe God made the hornets sting him if he's a bad man," said Charlie.
"We all get what we give out," agreed Martin. "Lyman Mertzheimer will feel those hornet stings for a few days. While I've always been taught not to rejoice at the misfortunes of others I'm not sorry I saw him. I'll call our account square now. You pitied him, didn't you?" he asked Amanda suddenly. "I saw it in your eyes. So did Mary and Katie."
"Of course I pitied him," she confessed. "I'd feel sorry for anything or anybody who suffers. I know it serves him right, that he's earned worse than that, and yet I would have relieved him if I could have done so. Nature meant that we should be decent, I suppose."
The man was thoughtful for a moment. "Yes, I suppose so. It is a woman's nature."
"Would you have us different?"
"No—no—we wouldn't have you different. Many of the best men would be mere brutes if women's pity and tenderness and forgiveness were taken out of their lives—we wouldn't have you different."
ON THE MOUNTAIN TOP
The following Sunday at noon Martin passed the Reist farmhouse as he drove his mother and several of the children to Mennonite church at Landisville. After the service he passed that way again and noticed several cars stopping at Reists'. Evidently they were entertaining a number of visitors for Sunday dinner after the service, as is the custom in rural Lancaster County. The big porch was filled with people who rocked or leaned idly against the pillars, while in the big kitchen Millie, Amanda and Mrs. Reist worked near the hot stove and prepared an appetizing dinner for them.
Amanda did not shirk her portion of the necessary work, but rebellion was in her heart as she noted her mother's flushed, tired face.
"Mother, if you'd only feel that Millie and I could get the dinner without you! It's a shame to have you in this kitchen on a day like this!"
"Ach, I'm not so hot. I'm not better than you or Millie," the mother insisted, and stuck to her post, while Amanda murmured, "This Sunday visiting—how I hate it! We've outgrown the need of it now, especially with automobiles."
But at length the meal was placed upon the table, the guests gathered from porches and lawn and an hour later the dishes were washed and everything at peace once more in the kitchen. Then Amanda walked out to the garden at the rear of the house.
"Ooh," she sighed in relief, "I'm glad that's over! Visiting on such a day should be made a misdemeanor!" She pulled idly on a zinnia that lifted its globular red head in the hot August sun.
"Hey, Sis," came Phil's voice to her, "he wants you on the 'phone!"
"Who's he?" she asked as the boy ran out to her in the garden.
They turned to the house, talking as they went.
"Well, Sis, you know who he is! He's coming round here all the time lately."
A gentle shove from the girl rewarded the boy for his teasing, but he was not easily daunted. "Don't you remember," he said, "how that old Mrs. Haldeman who kept tine candy store near the market house in Lancaster used to call her husband he? She never called him Mister or Mr. Haldeman, just he, and you could feel she would have written it in italics if she could."
"Well, that was all right, there was only one he in the world so far as she was concerned. But do you remember, Phil, the time Mother took us in her store to buy candy and we talked to her canary and the old woman said, 'Ach, yes, I think still how good birds got it! I often wish I was a canary, but then he would have to be one too!' We disgraced Mother by giggling fit to kill ourselves. But the old woman just smiled at us and gave us each a pink and white striped peppermint stick. Now run along, Phil, don't be eavesdropping," she said as they reached the hall and she sat down to answer the telephone.
"That you, Amanda?" came over the wire.
"Got a houseful of company? It seemed like that when we drove past. Overflow meeting on the porch!"
"Oh, yes, as usual."
"What I wanted to know is—are there any young people among the visitors, that makes it a matter of courtesy for you to stay at home all afternoon?"
"No, they are all older people to-day, and a few little children."
"Good! Then how would you like to have a little picnic, just we two? I want to get away from Victrola music and children's questions and four walls, and I thought you might have a similar longing."
"Mental telepathy, Martin! That's just what I was thinking as I was out in the garden."
"Then I'll call for you and we'll go up past the sandpit to that hilltop where the breeze blows even on a day like this."
When Martin came for her she was ready, a lunch tucked under one arm, two old pillows in the other. She had given the red hair a few pats, added several hairpins, slipped off her white dress and buttoned up a pale green chambray one with cool white collar and cuffs. She stood ready, attractive, as Martin entered the lawn.
"Say!" he whistled. "You did that in short order! I thought it took girls hours to dress."
"Then you're like Solomon; you can't understand the ways of women!" She laughed as she handed him the lunch-box.
Her calm efficiency puzzled him. Lately he was discovering so many undreamed of qualities in this lively friend of his childhood. He was beginning to feel some of the wonder those people must have felt whose children played with pebbles that were one day discovered to be priceless uncut diamonds. Until that day she had found him prostrate in her moccasin woods he had thought of her as just Amanda Reist, a nice, jolly girl with a quick temper if you tried her too hard and a quick tongue to express it, but a good comrade and a pleasant companion if you treated her fairly.
Then his attitude had undergone a change. After that day of his great unhappiness he thought of her as a woman, staunch, courageous, yet gentle and feminine, one who had faith in her old friend, who could comfort a man when he was downcast and help him raise his head again. A wonderful woman she was! One who loved pretty clothes and things modern and yet appreciated the charm of the old-fashioned, and seemed to dovetail perfectly into the plain grooves of her people and his with their quaint old dress and houses and manners. A woman, too, who had an intense love for the great outdoors. Not the shallow, pretentious love that would call forth gushing rhapsodies about moonlight or sunsets or the spectacular alone in nature, but a sincere, deep-rooted love that shone in her eyes as she stooped to see more plainly the tracery of veins in a fallen leaf and moved her to gentle speech to the birds, butterflies and woodland creatures as though they could understand and answer.
As they walked down the country road he looked at her. He had a way of noticing women's clothes and had become an observant judge of their becomingness. In her growing-up days Amanda had been frequently angered by his frank, unsolicited remarks about the colors she wore—this blue was off color for her red hair, or that golden brown was just the thing. Later she grew accustomed to his remarks and rather expected them. They still disconcerted her at times, but she had long ago ceased to grow angry about them.
"That green's the color for you to-day," he said, as they went along. "Do you know, I've often thought I'd like to see you in a black gown and a string of real jade beads around your neck."
"Jade! Was there ever a red head who didn't wish she had a string of jade beads?"
"You'd be great!"
"So would the price," she told him, laughing. "A string of real jade would cost as much as a complete outfit of clothes I wear."
"Then you should have black hair and cheap coral ones would do."
"Why, Martin," she said in surprise, "you are studying color combinations, aren't you?"
"Oh, not exactly; I'm not interested in all colors. But say, that reminds me—I saw a girl in Lancaster last winter who had hair like yours and about the same coloring. She wore a brown suit and brown hat and furs—it was great."
"I'd like to have that." Daughter of Eve! She liked it because he did! "But don't speak about furs on a day like this! It's hot—too hot, Martin, for a houseful of company, don't you think so?"
"It is hot to stand and cook for extra people."
"Well, perhaps it's wicked, but I hate this Sunday visiting the people of Lancaster County indulge in! I never did like it!"
"I'm not keen about it myself. Sunday seems to me to be a day to go to church and rest and enjoy your family, sometimes to go off to the woods like this. But a houseful of buzzing visitors swarming through it—whew! it does spoil the Sabbath."
"I never did like to visit," confessed the girl. "Not unless I went to people I really cared for. When we were little and Mother would take Phil and me to visit relatives or friends I merely liked I'd be there a little while and then I'd tug at Mother's skirt and beg, 'Mom, we want to go home.' I suppose I spoiled many a visit for her. I was self-willed even then."
"You are a stubborn person," he said, with so different a meaning that Amanda flushed.
"I know I am. And I have a nasty temper, too."
"Don't you know," he consoled her, "that a temper controlled makes a strong personality? George Washington had one, the history books say, but he made it serve him."
"And that's no easy achievement." The girl spoke from her own experience. "It's like pulling molars to press your lips together and be quiet when you want to rear and tear and stamp your feet."
"Well, come down to hard facts, and how many of us will have to admit that we have feelings like that at times? There is still a good share of the primitive man left in our natures. We're not saints. Why, even the churches that believe in saints don't canonize mortals until they have been a hundred years dead—they want to be sure they are dead and their mortal weaknesses forgotten."
Amanda laughed. A moment later they turned from the country road and followed a narrower path that was bordered on one side by green fields and on the other by a strip of woods, an irregular arm reaching out from Amanda's moccasin haunt. The road led up-hill at a sharp angle, so that when the traveler reached the top, panting and tired, there stretched before him in delightful panorama a view of Lancaster County that more than compensated for the discomfort and effort of the climb.
Amanda and Martin stood facing that sight. Behind them lay the cool, tree-clad hill, before them the blue August sky looked down on Lancaster County farms, whose houses and red barns seemed dropped like kindergarten toys into the midst of undulating green fields. One could sit or stand under the sheltering shade of the trees along the edge of the woods and yet look up to the sky or out upon the Garden Spot and farther off, to the blue, hazy mountain ridge that touched the sky-line and cut off the view of what lay beyond.
Martin threw the pillows on the ground and they sat down in the cool shade.
"Can anything beat this?" he asked lazily as he ruffled the dry leaves about him with his hands. "You know, Amanda, I could never understand why, with my love for outdoors, I can't be a farmer. When I was a boy I used to consider it the natural thing for me to do as my father did. I did help him, but I never liked the work. You couldn't coax the other boys to the city; they'd rather pitch hay or plant corn. And yet I like nothing better than to be out in the open. During the summer I'm out in the garden after I come home from the city, and that much of working the soil I like, but for a steady job—not for me!"
"It's best to do work one likes," said the girl. "Not every person who likes outdoors was meant to be a farmer. Be glad you like to be out in the open. But I can't conceive of any person not liking it. I could sit and look at the sky for one whole day. It's so encouraging. Sometimes when I walk home from school after a hard day and I look down on the road and think over the problems of handling certain trying children so as to get the best out of them and the latent best in them developed, I look up all of a sudden and the sky is so wonderful that, somehow, my troubles seem trivial. It's just as though the sky were saying, 'Child, you've been looking down so long and worrying about little things that you've forgotten that the sky is blue and the clouds are still sailing over you.' And, Martin, don't you like the stars? I never get tired of looking at them. I never care to gaze at the full moon unless there are clouds sailing over her. She's too big and brazen, too compelling. But the twinkle of the stars and the sudden flashing out of dim ones you didn't see at first always makes me feel like singing. Ever feel that way?"
"Yes, but I couldn't put it all into words like that."
"Ah," he thought, "she has the mind of a poet, the heart of a child, the soul of a woman."
"I read somewhere," she went on, as though certain of his understanding and sharing her mood, "that the Pagans said man was made to stand upright so that he might raise his face to heaven and his eyes to the stars. Somehow, it seems those old Pagans had a finer conception of many vital truths than some of us have in this age."
"That's true. We have them beaten in many ways, but when we come across a thing like that we stop to think and wonder where they got it. I always did like mythology. Pandora and her box, Clytie and her emblem of constancy, and Ulysses—what schoolboy escaped the thrills of Ulysses? I bet you pitied Orpheus!"
"I did! But aren't we serious for a picnic? Next thing we know one of us will be saying thirdly, fourthly, or amen!"
"I don't know—it suits me. You're so sensible, Amanda, it's a pleasure to talk with you. Most girls are so frothy."
"No disparaging remarks about our sex," she said lightly, "or I'll retaliate."
"Go on," he challenged, "I dare you to! What's the worst fault in mere man?"
She raised her hand in protest. "I wash my hands of that! But I will say that if most girls are frothy, as you say, it's because most men seem to like them that way. Confess now, how many shallow, frothy girls grow into old maids? It's generally the butterfly that occasions the merry chase, straw hats out to catch it. You seldom see a straw hat after a bee."
"Oh, Amanda, that's not fair, not like you!" But he thought ruefully of Isabel and her butterfly attractions. "I admit we follow the butterflies but sometimes we wake up and see our folly. True, men don't chase honeybees, but they have a wholesome respect for them and build houses for them. After all, the real men generally appreciate the real women. Sometimes the appreciation comes too late for happiness, but it seldom fails to come. No matter how appearances belie it, it's a fact, nevertheless, that in this crazy world of to-day the sincere, real girl is still appreciated. The frilly Gladys, Gwendolyns and What-nots still have to yield first place to the old-fashioned Rebeccas, Marys and Amandas."
Her heart thumped at the words. She became flustered and said the first thing that came into her head to say, "I like that, calling me old- fashioned! But we won't quarrel about it. Let's eat our lunch; that will keep us from too much talking for a while."
Martin handed her the box. He was silent as she opened it. She noted his preoccupation, his gray eyes looking off to the distant fields.
"Come back to earth!" she ordered. "What are you dreaming about?"
"I was just thinking that you are old-fashioned. I'm glad you are."
"Well, I'm not!" she retorted. "Come on, eat. I just threw in some rolls and cold chicken and pickles and a few peaches."
The man turned and gave his attention to the lunch and ate with evident enjoyment, but several times Amanda felt his keen eyes scrutinizing her face. "What ails him?" she thought.
"This is great, this is just the thing!" he told her several times during the time of lunch. "Let's do this often, come up here where the air is pure."
"All right," she agreed readily. "It will do you good to get up in the hills. I don't see how you stand being housed in a city in the summer! It must be like those awful days in the early spring or in the fall when I'm in the schoolroom and rebel because I want to be outdoors. I rebel every minute when the weather is nice, do it subconsciously while I'm teaching the states and capitals or hearing tables or giving out spelling words. Something just keeps saying inside of me, 'I want to be out, want to be out, be out, be out!' It's a wonder I don't say it out loud sometimes."
"If you did you'd hear a mighty echo, I bet! Every kid in the room would say it after you."
"Yes, I'm sure of that. I feel like a slave driver when I make them study on days that were made for the open. But it's the only way, I suppose. We have to learn to knuckle very early."
"Yes, but it's a great old world, just the same, don't you think so?"
"It's the only one I ever tried, so I'm satisfied to stay on it a while longer," she told him.
They laughed at that as only Youth can laugh at remarks that are not clever, only interesting to each other because of the personality of the speaker.
So the afternoon passed and the two descended again to the dusty country road, each feeling refreshed and stimulated by the hours spent together.
That September Amanda began her third year of teaching at Crow Hill.
"I declare," Millie said, "how quick the time goes! Here's your third year o' teachin' started a'ready. A body gets old fast."
"Yes, I'll soon be an old maid school teacher."
"Now, mebbe not!" The hired girl had lost none of her frankness. "I notice that Mart Landis sneaks round here a good bit this while past."
"Ach, Millie, he's not here often."
"No, o' course not! He just stops in in the afternoon about every other day with a book or something of excuse like that, and about every other day in the morning he's likely to happen to drop in to get the book back, and then in between that he comes and you go out for a walk after flowers or birds or something, and then between times there he comes with something his mom told him to ask or bring or something like that —no, o' course not, he don't come often! Not at all! I guess he's just neighborly, ain't, Amanda?" Millie chuckled at her own wit and Amanda could not long keep a frown upon her face.
"Of course, Millie," she said with an assumed air of indifference, "the Landis people have always been neighborly. Pennsylvania Dutch are great for that."
It was not from Millie alone that Amanda had to take teasing. Philip, always ready for amusement, was at times almost insufferable in the opinion of his sister.
"What's the matter with Mart Landis's home?" the boy asked innocently one day at the supper table.
"Why?" asked Uncle Amos. "I'll bite."
"Well, he seems to be out of it a great deal; he spends half of his time in our house. I think, Uncle Amos, as head of the house here, you should ask him what his intentions are."
"Phil!" Amanda's protest was vehement. "You make me as tired as some other people round here do. As soon as a man walks down the road with a girl the whole matter is settled—they'll surely marry soon! It would be nice if people would attend to their own affairs."
"Makes me tired too," said Philip fervently. "Last week I met that Sarah from up the road and naturally walked to the car with her. You all know what a fright she is—cross-eyed, pigeon-toed, and as brilliant mentally as a dark night in the forest. When I got into the car I heard some one say, 'Did you see Philip Reist with that girl? I wonder if he keeps company with her.' Imagine!"
"Serves you right," Amanda told him with impish delight. "I hope every cross-eyed, pigeon-toed girl in the county meets you and walks with you!"
"Feel better now, Sis?" His grin brought laughter to the crowd and Amanda's peeved feeling was soon gone.
It was true, Martin Landis spent many hours at the Reist farmhouse. He seemed filled with an insatiable desire for the companionship of Amanda. Scarcely a day passed without some glimpse of him at the Reist home.
Just what that companionship meant to the young man he did not stop to analyze at first. He knew he was happy with Amanda, enjoyed her conversation, felt a bond between them in their love for the vast outdoors, but he never went beyond that. Until one day in early November when he was walking down the lonely road after a pleasant evening with Amanda. He paused once to look up at the stars, remembering what the girl had said concerning them, how they comforted and inspired her. A sudden rush of feeling came to him as he leaned on the rail fence and looked up.... "Look here," he told himself, "it's time you take account of yourself. What's all this friendship with your old companion leading to? Do you love Amanda?" The "stars in their courses" seemed to twinkle her name, every leafless tree along the road she loved seemed to murmur it to him—Amanda! It was suddenly the sweetest name in the whole world to him!
"Oh, I know it now!" he said softly to himself under the quiet sky. "I love her! What a woman she is! What a heart she has, what a heart! I want her for my wife; she's the only one I want to have with me 'Till death us do part'—that's a fair test. Why, I've been wondering why I enjoyed each minute with her and just longed to get to see her as often as possible—fool, not to recognize love when it came to me! But I know it now! I'm as sure of it as I am sure those stars, her stars, are shining up there in the sky."
As he stood a moment silently looking into the starry heavens some portion of an old story came to him. "My love is as fair as the stars and well-nigh as remote and inaccessible." Could he win the love of a girl like Amanda Reist? She gave him her friendship freely, would she give her love also? A woman like Amanda could never be satisfied with half-gods, she would love as she did everything else—intensely, entirely! He remembered reading that propinquity often led people into mistakes, that constant companionship was liable to awaken a feeling that might masquerade as love. Well, he'd be fair to her, he'd let separation prove his love.
"That's just what I'll do," he decided. "Next week I'm to go on my vacation and I'll be gone two weeks. I'll not write to her and of course I won't see her. Perhaps 'Absence will make the heart grow fonder' with her. I hope so! It will be a long two weeks for me, but when I come back—" He flung out his arms to the night as though they could bring to him at once the form of the one he loved.
So it happened that after a very commonplace goodbye given to Amanda in the presence of the entire Reist household Martin Landis left Lancaster County a few weeks before Thanksgiving and journeyed to South Carolina to spend a quiet vacation at a mountain resort.
To Amanda Reist, pegging away in the schoolroom during the gray November days, his absence caused depression. He had said nothing about letters but she naturally expected them, friendly little notes to tell her what he was doing and how he was enjoying the glories of the famous mountains of the south. But no letters came from Martin.
"Oh," she bit her lip after a week had gone and he was still silent. "I won't care! He writes home; the children tell me he says the scenery is so wonderful where he is—why can't he send me just one little note? But I'm not going to care. I've been a fool long enough. I should know by this time that it's a case of 'Out of sight, out of mind.' I'm about done with castles in Spain! All my sentimental dreams about my knight, all my rosy visions are, after all, of that substance of which all dreams are made. I suppose if I had been practical and sensible like other girls I could have made myself like Lyman Mertzheimer or some other ordinary country boy and settled down into a contented woman on a farm. Why couldn't I long ago have put away my girlish illusions about knights and castles in Spain? I wonder if, after all, gold eagles are better and more to be desired than the golden roofs of our dream castles? If an automobile like Lyman Mertzheimer drives is not to be preferred to Sir Galahad's pure white steed! I've clung to my romanticism and what has it brought me? It might have been wiser to let go my dreams, sweep the illusions from my eyes and settle down to a sordid, everyday existence as the wife of some man, like Lyman Mertzheimer, who has no eye for the beauties of nature but who has two eyes for me."
Poor Amanda, destruction of her dream castles was perilously imminent! The golden turrets were tottering and the substance of which her dreams were made was becoming less ethereal. If Lyman Mertzheimer came to her then and renewed his suit would she give him a more encouraging answer than those she had given in former times? Amanda's hour of weakness and despair was upon her. It was a propitious moment for the awakening of the forces of her lower nature which lay quiescent in her, as it dwells in us all—very few escape the Jekyll-Hyde combination.
When Martin Landis returned to Lancaster County he had a vagrant idea of what the South Carolina mountains are like. He would have told you that the trees there all murmur the name of Amanda, that the birds sing her name, the waterfalls cry it aloud! During his two weeks of absence from her his conviction was affirmed—he knew without a shadow of doubt that he loved her madly. All of Mrs. Browning's tests he had applied—
"Unless you can muse in a crowd all day, On the absent face that fixed you; Unless you can love, as the angels may, With the breadth of heaven betwixt you; Unless you can dream that his faith is fast, Through behoving and unbehoving; Unless you can die when the dream is past— Oh, never call it loving!"
Amanda was enthroned in his heart, he knew it at last! How blind he had been! He knew now what his mother had meant one day when she told him, "Some of you men are blinder'n bats! Bats do see at night!"
As he rode from Lancaster on the little crowded trolley his thoughts were all of Amanda—would she give him the answer he desired? Could he waken in her heart something stronger than the old feeling of friendship, which was not now enough?
He stepped from the car—now he would be with her soon. He meant to stop in at the Reist farmhouse and ask her the great question. He could wait no longer.
"Hello, Landis," a voice greeted him as he alighted from the car. He turned and faced Lyman Mertzheimer, a smiling, visibly happy Lyman.
"Oh, hello," Martin said, not cordially, for he had no love for the trouble-maker. "I see you're in Lancaster County for your vacation again."
"Yes, home from college for Thanksgiving. I hear you've been away for several weeks."
The college boy fell into step beside Martin, who would have turned and gone in another direction if he had not been so eager to see Amanda.
"Yes, Landis," continued the unwelcome companion. "I'm home for Thanksgiving. It'll be a great day for me this year. By the way, I saw Amanda Reist a number of times since I'm here. Perhaps you'll be interested to know that Amanda's promised to marry me—congratulate me!"
"To marry you! Amanda?" Martin's face blanched and his heart seemed turned to lead.
"Why not?" The other laughed softly. "I'm not as black as I'm painted, you know."
"I—I hope not," Martin managed to say, his body suddenly seeming to be rooted in the ground. His feet dragged as he walked along. Amanda to marry Lvman Mertzheimer! What a crazy world it was all of a sudden. What a slow, poky idiot he had been not to try for the prize before it was snatched from him!
Lyman, rejoicing over the misery so plainly written in the face of Martin, walked boldly down the middle of the road, while Martin's feet lagged so he could not keep pace with the man who had imparted the bewildering news. Martin kept along the side of the road, scuffing along in the grass, thinking bitter thoughts about the arrogant youth who walked in the middle of the road. The honk, honk of a speeding automobile fell heedlessly upon the ears of both, till Martin looked back in sudden alarm. His startled eyes saw a car tearing down the road like a huge demon on wheels, its driver evidently trusting to the common sense of the man in the way to get out of the path of danger in time. But Lyman walked on in serene preoccupation, gloating over the unlucky, unhappy man who was following. With a cry of warning Martin rushed to the side of the other man and pushed him from the path of the car, but when the big machine came to a standstill Martin Landis lay in the dusty road, his eyes closed, a thin red stream of blood trickling down his face.
The driver was concerned. "He's knocked out," he said as he bent over the still form. "I'm a doctor and I'll take him home and fix him up. He's a plucky chap, all right! He kept you from cashing in, probably. Say, young fellow, are you deaf? I honked loud enough to be heard a mile. Only for him you'd be in the dust there and you'd have caught it full. The car just grazed him. It's merely a scalp wound," he said in relief as he examined the prostrate figure. "Know where he lives?"
"Yes, just a little distance beyond the schoolhouse down this road."
"Good. I'll take him home. I can't say how sorry I am it happened. Give me a lift, will you? You sit in the back seat and hold him while I drive."
Lyman did not relish the task assigned to him but the doctor's tones admitted of no refusal. Martin Landis was taken to his home and in his semiconscious condition he did not know that his head with its handkerchief binding leaned against the rascally breast of Lyman Mertzheimer.
"YOU SAVED THE WRONG ONE"
The news of the accident soon reached the Reist farmhouse. Amanda telephoned her sympathy to Mrs. Landis and asked if there was anything she could do.
"Oh, Amanda," came the reply, "I do wish you'd come over! You're such a comforting person to have around. Did you hear that it was Lyman Mertzheimer helped to bring him home? Lyman said he and Martin were walkin' along the road and were so busy talkin' that neither heard the car and it knocked Martin down. It beats me what them two could have to talk about so much in earnest that they wouldn't hear the automobile. But perhaps Lyman wanted to make up with Martin for all the mean tricks he done to him a'ready. Anyhow, we're glad it ain't worse. He's got a cut on the head and is pretty much bruised. He'll be stiff for a while but there ain't no bones broke."
"I'm so glad it isn't worse."
"Yes, ain't, abody still has something to be thankful for? Then you'll come on over, Amanda?"
"Yes, I'll be over."
As the girl walked down the road she felt a strange mingling of emotions. She couldn't refuse the plea of Mrs. Landis, but one thing was certain—she wouldn't see Martin! He'd be up-stairs and she could stay down. Perhaps she could help with the work in the kitchen— anything but see Martin!
Mrs. Landis was excited as she drew her visitor into the warm kitchen, but the excitement was mingled with wrath. "What d'you think, Amanda," she exclaimed, "our Mart—-"
"Yes, our Mart—-" piped out one of the smaller children, but an older one chided him, "Now you hush, and let Mom tell about it."
"That Lyman Mertzheimer," said Mrs. Landis indignantly, "abody can't trust at all! He let me believe that he and Martin was walkin' along friendly like and that's how Mart got hurt. But here after Lyman left and the doctor had Mart all fixed up and was goin' he told me that Martin was in the side of the road and wouldn't got hurt at all if he hadn't run to the middle to pull Lyman back. He saved that mean fellow's life and gets no thanks for it from him! After all Lyman's dirty tricks this takes the cake!"
Amanda's eyes sparkled. "He—I think Martin's wonderful!" she said, her lips trembling.
"Yes," the mother agreed as she wiped her eyes with one corner of her gingham apron. "I'd rather my boy laid up in bed hurt like he is than have him like Lyman."
"Oh, Mom," little Emma came running into the room, "I looked in at Mart and he's awake. Mebbe he wants somebody to talk to him like I did when I had the measles. Dare I go set with him a little if I keep quiet?"
"Why," said Mrs. Landis, "that would be a nice job for Amanda. You go up," she addressed the girl, "and stay a little with him. He'll appreciate your comin' to see him."
Amanda's heart galloped. Her whole being was a mass of contradictions. One second she longed to fly up the steps to where the plumed knight of her girlish dreams lay, the next she wanted to flee down the country road away from him.
She stood a moment, undecided, but Mrs. Landis had taken her compliance for granted and was already busy with some of her work in the kitchen. At length Amanda turned to the stairs, followed by several eager, excited children.
"Here," called the mother, "Charlie, Emma, you just leave Amanda go up alone. It ain't good for Mart to have so much company at once. I'll leave you go up to-night." They turned reluctantly and the girl started up the stairs alone, some power seeming to urge her on against her will.
Martin Landis returned to consciousness through a shroud of enveloping shadows. What had happened? Why was a strange man winding bandages round his head? He raised an arm—it felt heavy. Then his mother's voice fell soothingly upon his ears, "You're all right, Martin."
"Yes, you're all right," repeated the doctor, "but that other fellow should have the bumps you got."
"That other fellow"—Martin thought hazily, then he remembered. The whole incident came back to him, etched upon his memory. How he had started from the car, eager to get to Amanda, then Lyman had come with his news of her engagement and the hope in his heart became stark. Where was her blue bunting with its eternal song? Ah, he had killed it with his indifference and caution and foolish blindness! He knew he stumbled along the road, grief and misery playing upon his heart strings. Then came the frantic honk of the car and Lyman in its path. Good enough for him, was the first thought of the Adam in Martin. The next second he had obeyed some powerful impulse and rushed to the help of the heedless Lyman. Then blackness and oblivion had come upon him. Blessed oblivion, he thought, as the details of the occurrence returned to him. He groaned.
"Hurt you?" asked the doctor kindly.
"No. I'm all right." He smiled between his bandages. "I think I can rest comfortably now, thank you."
He was grateful they left him alone then, he wanted to think. Countless thoughts were racing through his tortured brain. How could Amanda marry Lyman Mertzheimer? Did she love him? Would he make her happy? Why had he, Martin, been so blind? What did life hold for him if Amanda went out of it? The thoughts were maddening and after a while a merciful Providence turned them away from him and he fell to dreaming tenderly of the girl, the Amanda of his boyhood, the gay, laughing comrade of his walks in the woods. Tender, understanding Amanda of his hours of unhappiness—Amanda—the vision of her danced before his eyes and lingered by his side—Amanda—-
"Martin"—the voice of her broke in upon his dreaming! She stood in the doorway and he wondered if that, too, was a part of his dream.
"Martin," she said again, a little timidly. Then she came into the room, a familiar little figure in her brown suit and little brown hat pulled over her red hair.
"Oh, hello," he answered, "come in if you care to."
"I am in." She laughed nervously, a strange way for her to be laughing, but the man did not take heed of it. Had she come to laugh at him for being a fool? he thought.
"Sit down," he invited coolly. She sat on the chair by his bed, her coat buttoned and unbuttoned by her restless fingers as she stole glances at the bandaged head of the man.
"It's good of you to come," he began. At that she turned and began to speak rapidly.
"Martin, I must tell you! You must let me tell you! I know what you did, how you saved Lyman. I think it was wonderful of you, just wonderful!"
"Ach." He turned his flushed face toward her then. "There's noticing wonderful about that."
"I think there is," she insisted, scarcely knowing what to say. She remembered his old aversion to being lionized.
"Tell me why you did it," she asked suddenly. She had to say something!
The man lay silent for a moment, then a rush of emotion, struggling for expression, swayed him and he spoke, while his eyes were turned resolutely from her.
"I'll tell you, Amanda! I've been a fool not to recognize the fact long ago that I love you."
"Oh!" There was a quick cry from the girl. But the man went on, impelled by the pain of losing her.
"I see now that I have always loved you, even while I was infatuated by the other girl. You were still you, right there when I needed you, ready to give your comfort and help. I must have loved you in the days we ran barefooted down the hills and looked for flowers or birds. I've been asleep, blind—call it what you will! Perhaps I could have taught you to love me if I had read my own heart in time. I took so much for granted, that you'd always be right there for me—now I've found out the truth too late. Lyman told me—I hope he'll make you happy. Perhaps you better go now. I'm tired."
But the request fell on deaf ears.
"Lyman told you—just what did he tell you?" she asked.
"Oh," the man groaned. "There's a limit to human endurance. I wish you'd go, dear, and leave me alone for a while."
"What did Lyman tell you?" she asked again. "I must know."
"What's the use of threshing it over? It brings neither of us happiness. Of course he told me about the engagement, that you are going to marry him."
"Oh!" Another little cry, not of joy this time, of anger, rather. There was silence then for a space, while the man turned his face to the wall and the girl tried to still the beating of her heart and control herself sufficiently to be able to speak.
"Then, Martin," she whispered, "you saved Lyman for me, because you thought I loved him?"
He lifted a protesting hand as if pleading for silence.
She went on haltingly, "Why, Martin, you saved the wrong one!"
He raised his head from the pillow then; a strangling sound came from his lips.
The girl's face burned with blushes but her eyes looked fearlessly into his as she said again, "You saved the wrong one. Why, Martin—Martin— if you wanted to save the man I love—you—you should have saved yourself!"
He read the truth in her eyes; his arms reached out for her then and her lips moved to his as steel to a magnet.
When he spoke she marveled at the tenderness in his voice; she never dreamed, even in her brightest romantic dreams, that a man's voice could hold so much tenderness. "Amanda, I began to read my own heart that day you found me in the woods and helped and comforted me."