A STORY OF
"THE PLAIN PEOPLE"
By ANNA BALMER MYERS
WITH FRONTISPIECE IN COLOR BY HELEN MASON GROSE
A. L. BURT COMPANY Publishers New York
Published by arrangement with George W. Jacobs & Company
Copyright, 1920, by GEORGE W. JACOBS & COMPANY
All rights reserved Printed in U.S.A.
To my Mother and Father this book is lovingly inscribed
I. CALICO PATCHWORK 13
II. OLD AARON'S FLAG 29
III. LITTLE DUTCHIE 40
IV. THE NEW TEACHER 52
V. THE HEART OF A CHILD 70
VI. THE PRIMA DONNA OF THE ATTIC 92
VII. "WHERE THE BROOK AND RIVER MEET" 110
VIII. BEYOND THE ALPS LIES ITALY 119
IX. A VISIT TO MOTHER BAB 129
X. AN OLD-FASHIONED COUNTRY SALE 146
XI. "THE BRIGHT LEXICON OF YOUTH" 166
XII. THE PREACHER'S WOOING 176
XIII. THE SCARLET TANAGER 189
XIV. ALADDIN'S LAMP 203
XV. THE FLEDGLING'S FLIGHT 207
XVI. PHOEBE'S DIARY 212
XVII. DIARY—THE NEW HOME 221
XVIII. DIARY—THE MUSIC MASTER 226
XIX. DIARY—THE FIRST LESSON 229
XX. DIARY—SEEING THE CITY 235
XXI. DIARY—CHRYSALIS 240
XXII. DIARY—TRANSFORMATION 245
XXIII. DIARY—PLAIN FOR A NIGHT 251
XXIV. DIARY—DECLARATIONS 256
XXV. DIARY—"THE LINK MUST BREAK AND THE LAMP MUST DIE" 261
XXVI. "HAME'S BEST" 268
XXVII. TRAILING ARBUTUS 271
XXVIII. MOTHER BAB AND HER SON 284
XXIX. PREPARATIONS 291
XXX. THE FEAST OF ROSES 295
XXXI. BLINDNESS 303
XXXII. OFF TO THE NAVY 310
XXXIII. THE ONE CHANCE 315
XXXIV. BUSY DAYS 319
XXXV. DAVID'S SHARE 327
XXXVI. DAVID'S RETURN 331
XXXVII. "A LOVE THAT LIFE COULD NEVER TIRE" 335
THE gorgeous sunshine of a perfect June morning invited to the great outdoors. Exquisite perfume from myriad blossoms tempted lovers of nature to get away from cramped, man-made buildings, out under the blue roof of heaven, and revel in the lavish splendor of the day.
This call of the Junetide came loudly and insistently to a little girl as she sat in the sitting-room of a prosperous farmhouse in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and sewed gaily-colored pieces of red and green calico into patchwork.
"Ach, my!" she sighed, with all the dreariness which a ten-year-old is capable of feeling, "why must I patch when it's so nice out? I just ain't goin' to sew no more to-day!"
She rose, folded her work and laid it in her plaited rush sewing-basket. Then she stood for a moment, irresolute, and listened to the sounds issuing from the next room. She could hear her Aunt Maria bustle about the big kitchen.
"Ach, I ain't afraid!"
The child opened the door and entered the kitchen, where the odor of boiling strawberry preserves proclaimed the cause of the aunt's activity.
Maria Metz was, at fifty, robust and comely, with black hair very slightly streaked with gray, cheeks that retained traces of the rosy coloring of her girlhood, and flashing black eyes meeting squarely the looks of all with whom she came in contact. She was a member of the Church of the Brethren and wore the quaint garb adopted by the women of that sect. Her dress of black calico was perfectly plain. The tight waist was half concealed by a long, pointed cape which fell over her shoulders and touched the waistline back and front, where a full apron of blue and white checked gingham was tied securely. Her dark hair was parted and smoothly drawn under a cap of white lawn. She was a picturesque figure but totally unconscious of it, for the section of Pennsylvania in which she lived has been for generations the home of a multitude of women similarly garbed—members of the plain sects, as the Mennonites, Amish, Brethren in Christ, and Church of the Brethren, are commonly called in the communities in which they flourish.
As the child appeared in the doorway her aunt turned.
"So," the woman said pleasantly, "you worked vonderful quick to-day once, Phoebe. Why, you got your patches done soon—did you make little stitches like I told you?"
"I ain't got 'em done!" The child stood erect, a defiant little figure, her blue eyes grown dark with the moment's tenseness. "I ain't goin' to sew no more when it's so nice out! I want to be out in the yard, that's what I want. I just hate this here patchin' to-day, that's what I do!"
Maria Metz carefully wiped the strawberry juice from her fingers, then she stood before the little girl like a veritable tower of amazement and strength.
"Phoebe," she said after a moment's struggle to control her wrath, "you ain't big enough nor old enough yet to tell me what you ain't goin' to do! How many patches did you make?"
"And you know I said you shall make four every day still so you get the quilt done this summer yet and ready to quilt. You go and finish them."
"I don't want to." Phoebe shook her head stubbornly. "I want to play out in the yard."
"When you're done with the patches, not before! You know you must learn to sew. Why, Phoebe," the woman changed her tactics, "you used to like to sew still. When you was just five years old you cried for goods and needle and I pinned the patches on the little sewing-bird that belonged to Granny Metz still and screwed the bird on the table and you sewed that nice! And now you don't want to do no more patches—how will you ever get your big chest full of nice quilts if you don't patch?"
But the child was too thoroughly possessed with the desire to be outdoors to be won by any pleading or praise. She pulled savagely at the two long braids which hung over her shoulders and cried, "I don't want no quilts! I don't want no chests! I don't like red and green quilts, anyhow—never, never! I wish my pop would come in; he wouldn't make me sew patches, he"—she began to sob—"I wish, I just wish I had a mom! She wouldn't make me sew calico when—when I want to play."
Something in the utter unhappiness of the little girl, together with the words of yearning for the dead mother, filled the woman with a strange tenderness. Though she never allowed sentiment to sway her from doing what she considered her duty she did yield to its influence and spoke gently to the agitated child.
"I wish, too, your mom was here yet, Phoebe. But I guess if she was she'd want you to learn to sew. Ach, it's just that you like to be out, out all the time that makes you so contrary, I guess. You're like your pop, if you can just be out! Mebbe when you're old as I once and had your back near broke often as I had with hoein' and weedin' and plantin' in the garden you'll be glad when you can set in the house and sew. Ach, now, stop your cryin' and go finish your patchin' and when you're done I'll leave you go in to Greenwald for me to the store and to Granny Hogendobler."
"Oh"—the child lifted her tear-stained face—"and dare I really go to Greenwald when I'm done?"
"Yes. I need some sugar yet and you dare order it. And you can get me some thread and then stop at Granny Hogendobler's and ask her to come out to-morrow and help with the strawberry jelly. I got so much to make and it comes good to Granny if she gets away for a little change."
"Then I'll patch quick!" Phoebe said. The world was a good place again for the child as she went back to the sitting-room and resumed her sewing.
She was so eager to finish the unpleasant task that she forgot one of Aunt Maria's rules, as inexorable as the law of the Medes and Persians—the door between the kitchen and the sitting-room must be closed.
"Here, Phoebe," the woman called sharply, "make that door shut! Abody'd think you was born in a sawmill! The strawberry smell gets all over the house."
Phoebe turned alertly and closed the door. Then she soliloquized, "I don't see why there has to be doors on the inside of houses. I like to smell the good things all over the house, but then it's Aunt Maria's boss, not me."
Maria Metz shook her head as she returned to her berries. "If it don't beat all and if I won't have my hands full yet with that girl 'fore she's growed up! That stubborn she is, like her pop—ach, like all of us Metz's, I guess. Anyhow, it ain't easy raising somebody else's child. If only her mom would have lived, and so young she was to die, too."
Her thoughts went back to the time when her brother Jacob brought to the old Metz farmhouse his gentle, sweet-faced bride. Then the joint persuasions of Jacob and his wife induced Maria Metz to continue her residence in the old homestead. She relieved the bride of all the brunt of manual labor of the farm and in her capable way proved a worthy sister to the new mistress of the old Metz place. When, several years later, the gentle wife died and left Jacob the legacy of a helpless babe, it was Maria Metz who took up the task of mothering the motherless child. If she bungled at times in the performance of the mother's unfinished task it was not from lack of love, for she loved the fair little Phoebe with a passion that was almost abnormal, a passion which burned the more fiercely because there was seldom any outlet in demonstrative affection.
As soon as the child was old enough Aunt Maria began to teach her the doctrines of the plain church and to warn her against the evils of vanity, frivolity and all forms of worldliness.
Maria Metz was richly endowed with that admirable love of industry which is characteristic of the Pennsylvania Dutch. In accordance with her acceptance of the command, "Six days shalt thou labor," she swept, scrubbed, and toiled from early morning to evening with Herculean persistence. The farmhouse was spotless from cellar to attic, the wooden walks and porches scrubbed clean and smooth. Flower beds, vegetable gardens and lawns were kept neat and without weeds. Aunt Maria was, as she expressed it, "not afraid of work." Naturally she considered it her duty to teach little Phoebe to be industrious, to sew neatly, to help with light tasks about the house and gardens.
Like many other good foster-mothers Maria Metz tried conscientiously to care for the child's spiritual and physical well-being, but in spite of her best endeavors there were times when she despaired of the tremendous task she had undertaken. Phoebe's spirit tingled with the divine, poetic appreciation of all things beautiful. A vivid imagination carried the child into realms where the stolid aunt could not follow, realms of whose existence the older woman never dreamed.
But what troubled Maria Metz most was the child's frank avowal of vanity. Every new dress was a source of intense joy to Phoebe. Every new ribbon for her hair, no matter how narrow and dull of color, sent her face smiling. The golden hair, which sprang into long curls as Aunt Maria combed it, was invariably braided into two thick, tight braids, but there were always little wisps that curled about the ears and forehead. These wisps were at once the woman's despair and the child's freely expressed delight. However, through all the rigid discipline the little girl retained her natural buoyancy of childhood, the spontaneous interestedness, the cheerfulness and animation, which were a part of her goodly heritage.
That June morning the world was changed suddenly from a dismal vale of patchwork to a glorious garden of delight. She was still a child and the promised walk to Greenwald changed the entire world for her.
She paused once in her sewing to look about the sitting-room. "Ach, I vonder now why this room is so ugly to me to-day. I guess it's because it's so pretty out. Why, mostly always I think this is a vonderful nice room."
The sitting-room of the Metz farm was attractive in its old-fashioned furnishing. It was large and well lighted. The gray rag carpet—woven from rags sewed by Aunt Maria and Phoebe—was decorated with wide stripes of green. Upon the carpet were spread numerous rugs, some made of braided rags coiled into large circles, others were hooked rugs gaily ornamented with birds and flowers and graceful scroll designs. The low-backed chairs were painted dull green and each bore upon the four inch panel of its back a hand-painted floral design. On the haircloth sofa were several crazy-work cushions. Two deep rocking-chairs matched the antique low-backed chairs. A spindle-legged cherry table bore an old vase filled with pink and red straw flowers. The large square table, covered with a red and green cloth, held a glass lamp, the old Metz Bible, several hymn-books and the papers read in that home,—a weekly religious paper, the weekly town paper, and a well-known farm journal. A low walnut organ which Phoebe's mother brought to the farm and a tall walnut grandfather clock, the most cherished heirloom of the Metz family, occupied places of honor in the room. Not a single article of modern design could be found in the entire room, yet it was an interesting and habitable place. Most of the Metz furniture had stood in the old homestead for several generations and so long as any piece served its purpose and continued to look respectable Aunt Maria would have considered it gross extravagance, even a sacrilege, to discard it for one of newer design. She was satisfied with her house, her brother Jacob was well pleased with the way she kept it—it never occurred to her that Phoebe might ever desire new things, and least of all did she dream that the girl sometimes spent an interesting hour refurnishing, in imagination, the same old sitting-room.
"Yes," Phoebe was saying to herself, "sometimes this room is vonderful to me. Only I wished the organ was a piano, like the one Mary Warner got to play on. But, ach, I must hurry once and make this patch done. Funny thing patchin' is, cuttin' up big pieces of good calico in little ones and then sewin' them up in big ones again! I don't like it"—she spoke very softly for she knew her aunt disapproved of the habit of talking to one's self—"I don't like patchin' and I for certain don't like red and green quilts! I got one on my bed now and it hurts my eyes still in the morning when I get awake. I'd like a pretty blue and white one for my bed. Mebbe Aunt Maria will leave me make one when I get this one sewed. But now my patch is done and I dare to go to Greenwald. That's a vonderful nice walk."
A moment later she stood again in the big kitchen.
"See," she said, "now I got them all done. And little stitches, too, so nobody won't catch their toes in 'em when they sleep, like you used to tell me still when I first begun to sew."
The woman smiled. "Now you're a good girl, Phoebe. Put your patches away nice and you dare go to Greenwald."
"Where all shall I go?"
"Go first to Granny Hogendobler; that's right on the way to the store. You ask her to come out to-morrow morning early if she wants to help with the berries."
"Dare I stay a little?"
"If you want. But don't you go bringin' any more slips of flowers to plant or any seeds. The flower beds are that full now abody can hardly get in to weed 'em still."
"All right, I won't. But I think it's nice to have lots and lots of flowers. When I have a garden once I'll have it full——"
"Talk of that some other day," said her aunt. "Get ready now for town once. You go to the store and ask 'em to send out twenty pounds of granulated sugar. Jonas, one of the clerks, comes out this way still when he goes home and he can just as good fetch it along on his home road. Your pop is too busy to hitch up and go in for it and I have no time neither to-day and I want it early in the morning, and what I have is almost all. And then you can buy three spools of white thread number fifty. And when you're done you dare look around a little in the store if you don't touch nothing. On the home road you better stop in the post-office and ask if there's anything. Nobody was in yesterday."
"All right—and—Aunt Maria, dare I wear my hat?"
"Ach, no. Abody don't wear Sunday clothes on a Wednesday just to go to Greenwald to the store. Only when you go to Lancaster and on a Sunday you wear your hat. You're dressed good enough; just get your sunbonnet, for it's sunny on the road."
Phoebe took a small ruffled sunbonnet of blue checked gingham from a hook behind the kitchen door and pressed it lightly on her head.
"Ach, bonnets are vonderful hot things!" she exclaimed. "A nice parasol like Mary Warner's got would be lots nicer. Where's the money?" she asked as she saw a shadow of displeasure on her aunt's face.
"Here it is, enough for the sugar and the thread. Don't lose the pocketbook, and be sure to count the change so they don't make no mistake."
"And don't touch things in the store."
"No." The child walked to the door, impatient to be off.
"And be careful crossin' over the streets. If a horse comes, or a bicycle, wait till it's past, or an automobile——"
"Ach, yes, I'll be careful," Phoebe answered.
A moment later she went down the boardwalk that led through the yard to the little green gate at the country road. There she paused and looked back at the farm with its old-fashioned house, her birthplace and home.
The Metz homestead, erected in the days of home-grown flax and spinning-wheels, was plain and unpretentious. Built of gray, rough-hewn quarry stone it hid like a demure Quakeress behind tall evergreen trees whose branches touched and interlaced in so many places that the traveler on the country road caught but mere glimpses of the big gray house.
The old home stood facing the road that led northward to the little town of Greenwald. Southward the road curved and wound itself about a steep hill, sent its branches right and left to numerous farms while it, still twisting and turning, went on to the nearest city, Lancaster, ten miles distant.
The Metz farm was just outside the southern limits of the town of Greenwald. The spacious red barn stood on the very bank of Chicques Creek, the boundary line.
"It's awful pretty here to-day," Phoebe said aloud as she looked from the house with its sheltering trees to the flower garden with its roses, larkspur and other old-fashioned flowers, then to the background of undulating fields and hills. "It's just vonderful pretty here to-day. But, ach, I guess it's pretty most anywheres on a day like this—but not in the house. Ugh, that patchin'! I want to forget it."
As she closed the gate and entered the country road she caught sight of a familiar figure just ahead.
"Hello," she called. "Wait once, David! Is that you?"
"No, it ain't me, it's my shadow!" came the answer as a boy, several years older than Phoebe, turned and waited for her.
"Ach, David Eby," she giggled, "you're just like Aunt Maria says still you are—always cuttin' up and talkin' so abody don't know if you mean it or what. Goin' in to town, too, once?"
"Um-uh. Say, Phoebe, you want a rose to pin on?" he asked, turning to her with a pink damask rose.
"Why, be sure I do! I just like them roses vonderful much. We got 'em too, big bushes of 'em, but Aunt Maria won't let me pull none off. Where'd you get yourn?"
"We got lots. Mom lets me pull off all I want. You pin it on and be decorated for Greenwald. Where all you going, Phoebe?"
"And I say thanks, too, David, for the rose," she said as she pinned the rose to her dress. "Um, it smells good! Where am I goin'?" she remembered his question. "Why, to the store and to Granny Hogendobler and the post-office——"
"Jimminy Crickets!" The boy stood still. "That's where I'm to go! Me and mom both forgot about it. Mom wants a money order and said I'm to get it the first time I go to town and here I am without the money. It's home up the hill again for me."
"Ach, David, don't you know that it's vonderful bad luck to go back for something when you got started once?"
The boy laughed. "It is bad luck to have to climb that hill again. But mom'll say what I ain't got in my head I got to have in my feet. They're big enough to hold a lot, too, Phoebe, ain't they?"
She giggled, then laughed merrily. "Ach," she said, "you say funny things. You just make me laugh all the time. But it's mean, now, that you are so dumb to forget and have to go back. I thought I'd have nice company all the ways in, but mebbe I'll see you in Greenwald."
"Mebbe. Goo'bye," said the boy and turned to the hill again.
Phoebe stood a moment and looked after him. "My," she said to herself, "but David Eby is a vonderful nice boy!" Then she started down the road, a quaint, interesting little figure in her brown chambray dress with its full, gathered skirt and its short, plain waist. But the face that looked out from the blue sunbonnet was even more interesting. The blue eyes, golden hair and fair coloring of the cheeks held promise of an abiding beauty, but more than mere beauty was bounded by the ruffled sunbonnet. There was an eagerness of expression, an alert understanding in the deep eyes, a tender fluttering of the long lashes, an ever varying animation in the child face, as though she were standing on tiptoe to catch all the sunshine and glory of the great, beautiful world about her.
Phoebe went decorously down the road, across the wooden bridge over the Chicques, then she began to skip. Her full skirt fluttered in the light wind, her sunbonnet slipped back from her head and flapped as she hopped along the half mile stretch of country road bordered by green fields and meadows.
"There's no houses here so I dare skip," she panted gleefully. "Aunt Maria don't think it looks nice for girls to skip, but I like to do it. I could just skip and skip and skip——"
She stopped suddenly. In a meadow to her right a tangle of bulrushes edged a small pond and, perched on a swaying reed, a red-winged blackbird was calling his clear, "Conqueree, conqueree."
"Oh, you pretty thing!" Phoebe cried as she leaned on the fence and watched the bird. "You're just the prettiest thing with them red and yellow spots on your wings. And you ain't afraid of me, not a bit. I guess mebbe you know you got wings and I ain't. Such pretty wings you got, too, and the rest of you is all black as coal. Mebbe God made you black all over like a crow and then got sorry for you and put some pretty spots on your wings. I wonder now"—her face sobered—"I just wonder now why Aunt Maria says still that it's bad to fix up pretty with curls and things like that and to wear fancy dresses. Why, many of the birds are vonderful fine in gay feathers and the flowers are fancy and the butterflies—ach, mebbe when I'm big I'll understand it better, or mebbe I'll dress up pretty then too."
With that cheering thought she turned again to the road and resumed her walk, but the skipping mood had fled. She pulled her sunbonnet to its proper place and walked briskly along, still enjoying thoroughly, though less exuberantly, the beauty of the June morning.
The scent of pink clover mingled with the odor of grasses and the delicate perfume of sweetbrier. Wood sorrel nestled in the grassy corners near the crude rail fences, daisies and spiked toad-flax grew lavishly among the weeds of the roadside. In the meadows tall milkweed swayed its clusters of pink and lavender, marsh-marigolds dotted the grass with discs of pure gold, and Queen Anne's lace lifted its parasols of exquisite loveliness. Phoebe reveled in it all; her cheeks were glowing as she left the beauty of the country behind her and came at last to the little town of Greenwald.
OLD AARON'S FLAG
GREENWALD is an old town but it is a delightfully interesting one. It does not wear its antiquity as an excuse for sinking into mouldering uselessness. It presents, rather, a strange mingling of the quaint, romantic and historic with the beautiful, progressive and modern. Though it clings reverently to honored traditions it is ever mindful of the fact that the welfare of its inhabitants is dependent upon reasonable progress in its religious, educational and industrial life.
The charming stamp of its antiquity is revealed in its great old trees; its wide Market Square from which narrower streets branch to the east, west, north and south; its numerous houses of the plain, substantial type of several generations ago; its occasional little, low houses which have withstood the march of modern building and stand squarely beside houses of more elaborate and later design; but chiefly in its old-fashioned gardens. All the old-time flowers are favorites there and refuse to be displaced by any newcomer. Sweet alyssum and candytuft spread carpets of bloom along the neat garden walks, hollyhocks and dahlias look boldly out to the streets, while the old-fashioned sweet-scented roses grow on great bushes which have been undisturbed for three or more generations.
To Phoebe Metz, Greenwald, with its two thousand inhabitants, its several churches, post-office and numerous stores, seemed a veritable city. She delighted in walking on its brick sidewalks, looking at its different houses and entering its stores. How many attractions these stores held for the little country girl! There was the big one on the Square which had in one of its windows a great lemon tree on which grew real lemons. Another store had a large Santa Claus in its window every Christmas—not that Phoebe Metz had ever been taught to believe in that patron saint of the children—oh, no! Maria Metz would have considered it foolish, even sinful, to lie to a child about any mythical Santa Claus coming down the chimney Christmas Eve! Nevertheless, the smiling, rotund face of the red-habited Santa in the store window seemed so real and so emanative of cheer that Phoebe delighted in him each year and felt sure there must be a Santa Claus somewhere in the world, even though Aunt Maria knew nothing about him.
Most little towns can boast of one or more persons like Granny Hogendobler, well-nigh community owned, certainly community appropriated. Did any one need a helper in garden or kitchen or sewing room, Granny Hogendobler was glad to serve. Did a housewife remember that a rose geranium leaf imparts to apple jelly a delicious flavor, Granny Hogendobler was able and willing to furnish the leaf. Did a lover of flowers covet a new phlox or dahlia or other old-fashioned flower, Granny Hogendobler was ready to give of her stock. Should a young wife desire a recipe for crullers, shoo-fly pie, or other delectable dish, Granny had a wealth of reliable recipes at her tongue's end. This admirable desire to serve found ample opportunities for exercise in the constant demands from her friends and neighbors. But Granny's greatest joy lay in the fond ministrations for her husband, Old Aaron, as the town people called him, half pityingly, half accusingly. For some said Old Aaron was plain shiftless, had always been so, would remain so forever, so long as he had Granny to do for him. Others averred that the Confederate bullets that had shattered his leg into splinters and necessitated its amputation must have gone astray and struck his liver—leastways, that was the kindest explanation they could give for his laziness.
Granny stoutly refuted all these charges—gossip travels in circles in small towns and sooner or later reaches those most concerned—"Aaron lazy! I-to-goodness no! Why, he's old and what for should he go out and work every day, I wonder. He helps me with the garden and so, and when I go out to help somebody for a day or two he gets his own meals and tends the chickens still. Some people thought a few years ago that he might get work in the foundry, but I said I want him at home with me. He gets a pension and we can live good on what we have without him slaving his last years away, and him with one leg lost at Gettysburg!" she ended proudly.
So Old Aaron continued to live his life as pleased his mate and himself. He pottered about the house and garden and spent long hours musing under the grape arbor. But there was one day in every year when Old Aaron came into his own. Every Memorial Day he dressed in his venerated blue uniform and carried the flag down the dusty streets of Greenwald, out to the dustier road to a spot a mile from the heart of the town, where, on a sunny hilltop, some of his comrades rested in the Silent City.
Only the infirm and the ill of the town failed to run to look as the little procession passed down the street. There were boys in khaki, the town band playing its best, volunteer firemen clad in vivid red shirts, a low, hand-drawn wagon filled with flowers, an old cannon, also hand-drawn, whose shots over the graves of the dead veterans would thrill as they thrilled every May thirtieth—all received attention and admiration from the watchers of the procession. But the real honors of the day were accorded the "thin blue line of heroes," and Old Aaron was one of these. To Granny Hogendobler, who walked with the crowd of cheering children and adults and kept step on the sidewalk with the step of the marchers on the street, it was evident that the standard bearer was growing old. The steep climb near the cemetery entrance left him breathless and flushed and each year Granny thought, "It's getting too much for him to carry that flag." But each returning year she would have spurned as earnestly as he any suggestion that another one be chosen to carry that flag. And so every three hundred and sixty-fifth day the lean straight figure of Old Aaron marched directly under the fluttering folds of Old Glory and the soldier became a subject worthy of veneration, then with customary nonchalance the little town forgot him again or spoke of him as Old Aaron, a little lazy, a little shiftless, a little childish, and Granny Hogendobler became the more important figure of that household.
Granny was fifteen years younger than her husband and was undeniably rotund of hips and face, the former rotundity increased by her full skirts, the latter accentuated by her style of wearing her hair combed back into a tight knot near the top of her head and held in place by a huge black back-comb.
From this style of hair dressing it is evident that Granny was not a member of any plain sect. She was, as she said, "An Evangelical, one of the old kind yet. I can say Amen to the preacher's sermon and stand up in prayer-meeting and tell how the Lord has blessed me."
There were some who doubted the rich blessing of which Granny spoke. "I wouldn't think the Lord blessed me so much," whispered one, "if I had a man like Old Aaron, though I guess he's good enough to her. And that boy of theirs never comes home; he must have a funny streak in him too." "But think of this," one would answer, "how the Lord keeps her cheerful, kind and faithful through all her troubles."
Granny's was a wonderful garden. She and Old Aaron lived in a little gray cube of a house that had its front face set straight to the edge of Charlotte Street. However, the north side of the cube looked into a great green yard where tall spruce trees, overrun with trumpet vines and woodbine, shaded long beds of flowers that love semi-shady places. The rear of the house overlooked an old-fashioned garden enclosed with a white-washed picket fence. Always were there flowers at Granny's house. In the cold days of winter blooming masses of geraniums, primroses and gloxinias crowded against the little square panes of the windows and looked defiantly out at the snow; while all the old favorites grew in the garden, from the first March snowdrop to the late November chrysanthemum. In June, therefore, the garden was a "Lovesome spot" indeed.
"It vonders me now if Granny's home," thought Phoebe as she opened the wooden gate and entered the yard.
"Here I am," called Granny. "Back in the garden. I-to-goodness, Phoebe, did you come once! I just said yesterday to Aaron that I didn't see none of you folks for long, and here you come! You haven't seen the flowers for a while."
"Oh!" Phoebe breathed an ecstatic little word of delight. "Oh, your garden is just vonderful pretty!"
"Ain't," agreed Granny. "Aaron and me's been working pretty hard in it these weeks. There he is, out in the potato patch; see him?"
Phoebe stood on tiptoe and looked where Granny's finger pointed to the extreme end of the long vegetable garden, where the white head of Old Aaron was bending over his hoeing.
"He's hoeing the potatoes," Granny explained. "He don't see you. But he'll soon be done and come in."
"What were you doin'?" asked the child.
"Weeding the flag."
"Weedin' the flag—what do you mean?" Phoebe's eyes lighted with eagerness. "I guess you mean mendin' the flag, Granny." She looked toward the porch as if in search of Old Glory.
"I said weeding the flag," the woman insisted. "It's an idea of Aaron's and I guess I'll tell you about it, seeing your eyes are open so wide. See the poppies, that long stretch of them in the middle of the garden?"
"Um-uh," nodded Phoebe.
"Well, that patch at the back is all red poppies, the buds just coming on them nice and big. Then right in front of them is another patch of white poppies; the buds are thick on them, too. And right in front of them—you see what's there!"
"Larkspur, blue larkspur!" cried Phoebe. "Oh, I see—it's red, white and blue! You'll have it all summer in your garden!"
"Yes. When it blooms it'll be a grand sight. I said to Aaron that we'll have all the children of Greenwald in looking at his flag and he said he hopes so, for they couldn't look at anything better than the colors of Old Glory. Aaron's crazy about the flag."
"'Cause he fought for it, mebbe."
"Yes, I guess. His father died for it at Gettysburg, the same place where Aaron lost his leg. . . . The only thing is, the larkspur's getting ahead of the poppies—seems like the larkspur couldn't wait"—her voice continued low—"I always love to see the larkspur come."
"I too," said the child. "I like to pull out the little slippers from the middle of the flowers and fit 'em into each other and make circles with 'em. I made a lot last summer and pressed 'em in a book, but Aunt Maria made me stop."
"That's just what Nason used to do. I have some pressed in the big Bible yet that he made when he was a little boy." She spoke half-absently, as though momentarily forgetful of the child's presence.
"Who's Nason?" asked Phoebe.
Granny started. "I-to-goodness, Phoebe, I forgot! You don't know him, never heard of him, I guess. He's our boy. We had a little girl, too, but she died."
"Did the boy die too, Granny?"
"No, ach no! You wouldn't understand. He's living in the city. He writes to me often but he don't come home. He and his pop fell out about the flag once when Nason was young and foolish and they're both too stubborn to forget it."
"But he'll come back some day and live with you, of course, won't he?" Phoebe comforted her.
"Yes—some day they'll see things different. But now don't you bother that head of yourn with such things. You forget all about Nason. Come now, sit on the bench a little under the arbor."
"Just a little. I must go to the store yet."
"You have lots to do."
"Yes. And I almost forgot what I come for. Aunt Maria wants you should come out to our place to-morrow early and help with the strawberries if you can."
"I'll come. I like to come to your place. Your Aunt Maria is so straight out, nothing false about her. I like her. But now I bet you're thinking of how many berries you can eat," she added as she noted the child's abstracted look.
"No—I was thinkin'—I was just thinkin' what a funny name Nason is, like you tried to say Nathan and got your tongue twisted."
"It's a real name, but you must forget all about it."
"If I can. Sometimes Aunt Maria tells me to forget things, like wantin' curls and fancy things and pretty dresses but I don't see how I can forget when I remember, do you?"
"It's hard," Granny said, a deeper meaning in her words than the child could comprehend. "It's the hardest thing in the world to forget what you want to forget. But here comes Aaron——"
"Well, well, if here ain't Phoebe Metz with her eyes shining and a pink rose pinned to her waist and matching the roses in her cheeks!" the old soldier said as he joined the two under the arbor. "Whew! Mebbe it ain't hot hoeing potatoes!"
"You're all heated up, Aaron," said Granny. His fifteen years seniority warranted a solicitous watchfulness over him, she thought. "Now you get cooled off a little and I'll make some lemonade. It'll taste good to me and Phoebe, too."
"All right, Ma," Aaron sighed in relaxation. "You know how to touch the spot. Did you tell Phoebe about the flag?"
"Oh, I think it's fine!" cried the child. "I can't wait till all the flowers bloom. I want to see it."
"You'll see it," promised the man. "And you bring all the boys and girls in too."
"And then will you tell us about the war and the Battle of Gettysburg? David Eby says he heard you once tell about it. I think it was at some school celebration. And he says it was grand, just like being there yourself."
"A little safer," laughed the old soldier. "But, yes, when the poppies bloom you bring the children in and I'll tell you about the war and the flag."
"I'll remember. I love to hear about the war. Old Johnny Schlegelmilch from way up the country comes to our place still to sell brooms, and once last summer he came and it began to thunder and storm and pop said he shall stay till it's over and then he told me all about the war. He said our flag's the prettiest in the whole world."
"So it is," solemnly affirmed Old Aaron.
"I wonder if anybody it belongs to could help liking it," said the child, remembering Granny's words.
"Well," the veteran answered slowly, "I knew a young fellow once, a nice fellow he seemed, too, and his father a soldier who fought for the flag. Well, the father was always talking about the flag and what it means and how every man should be ready to fight for it. And one day the boy said that he would never fight for it and be shot to pieces, that the old flag made him sick, and one soldier in the family was enough."
"Oh!" Phoebe opened her eyes wide in surprise and horror.
"And the father told the boy," the old man went on in a fixed voice as though the veriest details of the story were vividly before him, "that if he would not take back those words he never wanted to see him again. It was better to have no son, than such a son, a coward who hated the flag."
Here Granny appeared with the lemonade and the story was abruptly ended. Phoebe refrained from questioning the man about the story but as she sat under the arbor and afterwards, as she started up the street of the little town, she wondered over and over how a boy could be the son of a soldier and hate the flag, and whether the story Old Aaron told her was the story of himself and Nason.
"AUNT MARIA said I dare look around a little," thought Phoebe as she neared the big store on the Square. Her heart beat more quickly as she turned the knob of the heavy door—little things still thrilled her, going to the store in Greenwald was an event!
The clerk's courteous, "What can I do for you?" bewildered her for an instant but she swallowed hard and said, "Why, we want twenty pounds of granulated sugar; ourn is almost all and Aunt Maria wants to make some strawberry jelly to-morrow. She said for Jonas to fetch it along on his home road."
"All right. Out to Jacob Metz?"
"Yes, he's my pop."
"I see. Anything else?"
"Three spools white thread, number fifty."
She shook her head as she handed him the money. "No, that's all for to-day. But Aunt Maria said I dare look around a little if I don't touch things."
"Look all you want," said the clerk and turned away, smiling.
Phoebe began a slow tramp about the big store. There was the same glass case filled with jewelry. The rings and pins rested on satin that had faded long since, the jewelry itself was tarnished but it held Phoebe's interest with its meagre glistening. One little ring with a tiny turquoise aroused her desire but she realized that she was longing for the impossible, so she moved away from the coveted treasures and paused before the ribbons. Some of those same ribbons had been in the tall revolving case ever since she could remember going to that store. The pale sea-green and the crushed-strawberry were faded horribly, yet she looked at them with longing. "Suppose," she thought, "I dared pick out any ribbon I want for a sash—guess I'd take that funny pink one, or mebbe that nice blue one. But I kinda think I'd rather have a set of dishes or a doll. But then I got that rag doll at home and that pretty one that pop got for me in Lancaster and that Aunt Maria won't leave me play with. That's funny now, that she says still I daren't play with it for I might break it, that I shall keep it till I'm big. But when I'm big I won't want a doll, and then I vonder what! What will I do with it then?"
She stood a long time before a table crowded with a motley gathering of toys, dolls and books. With so much coveted treasure before her it was hard to remember Aunt Maria's injunction to refrain from touching.
"Well, anyhow," she decided finally, "I won't need any of these things to play with now, for I'm going to be out in the garden and the yard with the flowers and birds. So I guess my old rag doll will be plenty for playin' with. But I mustn't look too long else Aunt Maria won't leave me come in soon again. I'll walk down the other side of the store now yet and then I must go."
She passed slowly along, her keen eyes noticing the varied assortment of articles displayed for sale. A long line of red handkerchiefs was fastened to a cord high above one counter. Long shelves were stacked high with ginghams, calicoes and finer dress materials. There were gaudy rugs and blankets tacked to the walls near the ceiling. Counters were filled with glassware, china and crockery; other counters were laden with umbrellas, hats, shoes——
"Ach," she sighed as she went out to the street, "I think this goin' to Greenwald to the store is vonderful nice! It's most as much fun as goin' in to Lancaster, only there I go in a trolley and I see black niggers"—she spoke the word with a little shiver, for Greenwald had no negro residents—"and once in there me and Aunt Maria saw a Chinaman with a long plait like a girl's hangin' down his back!"
After asking for the mail at the post-office she turned homeward, feeling like singing from sheer happiness. Then she looked down at her pink damask rose—it was withered.
"I'm goin' home now so I guess I won't be decorated no more." She unpinned the flower, clasped its short stem in her hand and raised the blossom to her face.
"Um-m-m!" She drew deep breaths of the rose's perfume. "Um-m!"
"Does it smell good?"
Phoebe turned her head at the voice and looked into the face of a young woman who sat on the porch of a near-by house.
"Does it smell good?" The question came again, accompanied by a broad smile.
Quickly the hand holding the flower dropped to the child's side, her eyes were cast down to the brick pavement and she went hurriedly down the street. But not so hurriedly that she failed to hear the words, "LITTLE DUTCHIE" and a merry laugh from the young woman.
"She—she laughed at me!" Phoebe murmured to herself under the blue sunbonnet. "I don't know who she is, but that was at Mollie Stern's house that she sat—that lady that laughed at me. She called me a Dutchie!"
The child stabbed a fist into one eye and then into the other to fight back the tears. She felt sure that the appellation of Dutchie was not complimentary. Hadn't she heard the boys at school tease each other by calling, "Dutchie, Dutchie, sauer kraut!" But no one had ever called her that before! Her heart ached as she went down the street of the little town. She had planned to look at all the gardens of the main street as she walked home but the glory of the June day was spoiled for her. She did not care to look at any gardens. The laughing words, "Does it smell good?" rang in her ears. The name, "Little Dutchie," sent her heart throbbing.
After the first hurt a feeling of wrath rose in her. "Anyhow," she thought, "it's no disgrace to be a Dutchie! Nobody needn't laugh at me for that. But I just hate that lady that laughed at me! I hate everybody that pokes fun at me. And I ain't goin' to always be a Dutchie. You see once if I don't be something else when I grow up!"
"Hello, Phoebe," a cheery voice rang out, followed by a deeper exclamation, "Phoebe!" as she came to the last intersection of streets in the town and turned to enter the country road.
She turned a sober little face to the speakers, David Eby and his cousin, Phares Eby.
"Hello," she answered listlessly.
"What's wrong?" asked the older boy as they joined her.
Both were plainly country boys accustomed to hard farm work, but their tanned faces were frank and honest under broad straw hats. Each bore marked family resemblances in their big frames, dark eyes and well-shaped heads, but there was a distinct line drawn between their personalities. Phares Eby at sixteen was grave, studious and dignified; his cousin, David, two years younger, was a cheery, laughing, sociable boy, fond of boyish sports, delighting in teasing his schoolmates and enjoying their retaliation, preferring a tramp through the woods to the best book ever written.
The boys lived on adjacent farms and had long been the nearest neighbors of the Metz family; thus they had become Phoebe's playmates. Then, too, the Eby families were members of the Church of the Brethren, the mothers of the boys were old friends of Maria Metz, and a deep friendship existed among them all. Phoebe and the two boys attended the same little country school and had become frankly fond of each other.
"What's wrong?" asked Phares again as Phoebe hung her head and remained silent.
"Ach," laughed David, "somebody's broke her dolly."
"Nobody ain't not broke my dolly, David Eby!" she said crossly. "I wouldn't cry for that!"
"What's wrong then?—come on, Phoebe." He pushed the sunbonnet back and patted her roguishly on the head. But she drew away from him.
"Don't you touch me," she cried. "I'm a Dutchie!"
She tossed her head and became silent again.
"Come on, tell me," coaxed David. "I want to know what's wrong. Why, if you don't tell me I'll be so worried I won't be able to eat any dinner, and I'm so hungry now I could eat nails."
The girl laughed suddenly in spite of herself—"Ach, David, you're awful simple! Abody has to laugh at you. I was mad, for when I was in Greenwald I was smellin' a rose, that pink rose you gave me, and some lady on Mollie Stern's porch laughed at me and called me a LITTLE DUTCHIE! Now wouldn't you got mad for that?"
But David threw back his head and laughed. "And you were ready to cry at that?" he said. "Why, I'm a Dutchie, so is Phares, so's most of the people round here. Ain't so, Phares?"
"Yes, guess so," the older boy assented, his eyes still upon Phoebe. "D'ye know," he said, addressing her, "when you were cross a few minutes ago your eyes were almost black. You shouldn't get so angry still, Phoebe."
"I don't care," she retorted quickly, "I don't care if my eyes was purple!"
"But you should care," persisted the boy gravely. "I don't like you so angry."
"Ach," she flashed an indignant look at him—"Phares Eby, you're by far too bossy! I like David best; he don't boss me all the time like you do!"
David laughed but Phares appeared hurt.
Phoebe was quick to note it. "Now I hurt you like that lady hurt me, ain't, Phares?" she said contritely. "But I didn't mean to hurt you, Phares, honest."
"But you like me best," said David gaily. "You can't take that back, remember."
She gave him a scornful look. Then she remembered the flag in the Hogendobler garden and became happy and eager again as she said, "Oh, Phares, David, I know the best secret!"
"Can't keep it, I bet!" challenged David.
"Can't I?" she retorted saucily. "Now for that I won't tell you till you get good and anxious. But then it's not really a secret." The flag of growing flowers was too glorious a thing to keep; she compromised—"I'll tell you, because it's not a real secret." And she proceeded to unfold with earnest gesticulations the story about the flowers of red and white and blue and the invitation for all who cared to come and see the colors of Old Glory growing in the garden of Old Aaron and Granny, and of the added pleasure of hearing Old Aaron tell his thrilling story of the battle of Gettysburg.
"I won't want to hear about any battle," said Phares. "I think war is horrible, awful, wicked."
"Mebbe so," said the girl, "but the poor men who fight in wars ain't always awful, horrible, wicked. You needn't turn your nose up at the old soldiers. Folks call Old Aaron lazy, I heard 'em a'ready, lots of times, but I bet some of them wouldn't have fought like he did and left a leg at Gettysburg and—ach, I think Old Aaron is just vonderful grand!" she ended in an impulsive burst of eloquence.
"Hooray!" shouted David. "So do I! When he carries the flag out the pike every Decoration Day he's somebody, all right."
"Ain't now!" agreed Phoebe.
"Been in the stores?" David asked her, feeling that a change of subject might be wise.
"See anything pretty?"
"Ach, yes. A lots of things. I saw the prettiest finger ring with a blue stone in. I wish I had it."
"What would Aunt Maria say to that?" wondered David.
"Ach, she'd say that so long as my finger ain't broke I don't need a band on it. But I looked at the ring at any rate and wished I had it."
"You dare never wear gold rings," Phares told her.
"Not now," she returned, "but some day when I'm older mebbe I'll wear a lot of 'em if I want."
The words set the boys thinking. Each wondered what manner of woman their little playmate would become.
"I bet she'll be a good-looking one," thought David. "She'd look swell dressed up fine like some of the people I see in town."
"Of course she'll turn plain some day like her aunt," thought the other boy. "She'll look nice in the plain dress and the white cap."
Phoebe, ignorant of the visions her innocent words had called to the hearts of her comrades, chattered on until they reached the little green gate of the Metz farm.
"Now you two must climb the hill yet. I'm glad I'm home. I'm hungry."
"And me," the boys answered, and with good-byes were off on the winding road up the hill.
As Phoebe turned the corner of the big gray house she came face to face with her father.
"So here you are, Phoebe," he said, smiling at sight of her. "Your Aunt Maria sent me out to look if you were coming. It's time to eat. Been to the store, ain't?"
"Yes, pop. I went alone."
"So? Why, you're getting a big girl, now you can go to Greenwald alone."
"Ach," she laughed. "Why, it's just straight road."
They crossed the porch and entered the kitchen hand-in-hand, the sunbonneted little girl and the big farmer. Jacob Metz was also a member of the Church of the Brethren and bore the distinctive mark: hair parted in the middle and combed straight back over his ears and cut so that the edge of it almost touched his collar. A heavy black beard concealed his chin, mild brown eyes gleamed beneath a pair of heavy black brows. Only in the wide, high forehead and the resolute mouth could be seen any resemblance between him and the fair child by his side.
When they entered the kitchen Maria Metz turned from the stove, where she had been stirring the contents of a big iron pan.
"So you got back safe, after all, Phoebe," she said with a sigh of relief. "I was afraid mebbe something happened to you, with so many streets to go across and so many teams all the time and the automobiles."
"Ach, I look both ways still before I start over. Granny Hogendobler said she'll get out early."
"So. What did she have to say?"
"Ach, lots. She showed me her flowers. Ain't it too bad, now, that her little girl died and her boy went away?"
"Well, she spoiled that boy. He grew up to be not much account if he stays away just because he and his pop had words once."
"But he'll come back some day. Granny knows he will." The child echoed the old mother's confidence.
"Not much chance of that," said Aunt Maria with her usual decisiveness. "When a man goes off like that he mostly always stays off. He writes to her she says and I guess she's just as good off with that as if he come home to live. She's lived this long without him."
"But," argued Phoebe, the maternal in her over-sweeping all else, "he's her boy and she wants him back!"
"Ach," the aunt said impatiently, "you talk too much. Were you at the store?"
"Yes. I got the thread and ordered the sugar and counted the change and there was nothing in the post-office for us."
"Did you enjoy your trip to town?" asked the father.
"But what?" demanded Aunt Maria. "Did you break anything in the store now?"
"No. I just got mad. It was this way"—and she told the story of her pink rose.
Maria Metz frowned. "David Eby should leave his mom's roses on the stalks where they belong. Anyhow, I guess you did look funny if you poked your nose in it like you do still here."
"But she had no business to laugh at me, had she, pop?"
"You're too touchy," he said kindly. "But did you say the lady was on Mollie Stern's porch?"
"Then I guess it was her cousin from Philadelphia, the one that was elected to teach the school on the hill for next winter."
"Oh, pop, not our school?"
"Yes. Anyhow, her cousin was elected yesterday to teach your school. It seems she wanted to teach in the country and Mollie's pop is friends with a lot of our directors and they voted her in."
"I ain't goin' to school then!" Phoebe almost sobbed. "I don't like her, I don't want to go to her school; she laughed at me."
"Come, come," the father laid his hands on her head and spoke gently yet in a tone that she respected. "You mustn't get worked up over it. She's a nice young lady, and it will be something new to have a teacher from Philadelphia. Anyhow, it's a long ways yet till school begins."
"I'm glad it is."
"Come," interrupted the aunt, "help now to dish up. It's time to eat once. We're Pennsylvania Dutch, so what's the use gettin' cross when we're called that?"
"Yes," Phoebe's father said, smiling, "I'm a Dutchie too, but I'm a big Dutchie."
Phoebe smiled, but all through the meal and during the days that followed she thought often of the rose. Her heart was bitter toward the new teacher and she resolved never, never to like her!
THE NEW TEACHER
THE first Monday in September was the opening day of the rural school on the hill. Phoebe woke that morning before daylight. At four she heard her Aunt Maria tramp about in heavy shoes. It was Monday and wash-day and to Maria Metz the two words were so closely linked that nothing less than serious illness or death could part them.
"Ach, my," Phoebe sighed as she turned again under her red and green quilt, "this is the first day of school! Wish Aunt Maria'd forget to call me till it's too late to go."
At five-thirty she heard her father go down-stairs and soon after that came her aunt's loud call, "Phoebe, it's time to get up. Get up now and get down for I have breakfast made."
"Yes," came the dreary answer.
"Now don't you go asleep again."
"No, I'm awake. Shall I dress right aways for school?"
"No. Put on your old brown gingham once."
Phoebe made a wry face. "Ugh, that ugly brown gingham! What for did anybody ever buy brown when there are such pretty colors in the stores?"
A moment later she pushed back the gay quilt and sat on the edge of the bed. The first gleams of day-break sent bright streaks of light into her room as she sat on the high walnut bed and swung her bare feet back and forth.
"It's the first time I wasn't glad for school," she soliloquized softly. "I used to could hardly wait still, and I'd be glad this time if we didn't have that teacher from Phildelphy. Miss Virginia Lee her name is, and she's pretty like the name, but I don't like her! Guess she's that stuck up, comin' from the city, that she'll laugh all the time at us country people. I don't like people that poke fun at me, you bet I don't! I vonder now, mebbe I am funny to look at, that she laughed at me. But if I was I think somebody would 'a' told me long ago. I don't see what for she laughed so at me."
She sprang from the bed and ran to the window, pulled the cord of the green shade and sent it rattling to the top. Then she stood on tiptoe before the mirror in the walnut bureau, but the glass was hung too high for a satisfactory scrutiny of her features. She pushed a cane-seated chair before the bureau, knelt upon it and brought her face close to the glass.
"Um," she surveyed herself soberly. "Well, now, mebbe if my hair was combed I'd look better."
She pulled the tousled braids, opened them and shook her head until the golden hair hung about her face in all its glory.
"Why"—she gasped at the sudden change she had wrought, then laughed aloud from sheer childish happiness in her own miracle—"Why," she said gladly, "I ain't near so funny lookin' with my hair opened and down instead of pulled back in two tight plaits! But I wish Aunt Maria'd leave me have curls. I'd have a lot, and long ones, longer'n Mary Warner's."
"Phoebe!" Aunt Maria's voice startled the little girl. "What in the world are you doing lookin' in that glass so? And your knees on a cane-bottom chair! You know better than that. What for are you lookin' at yourself like that? You ought to be ashamed to be so vain."
Phoebe left the chair and looked at her aunt.
"Why," she said in an amazed voice, "I wasn't being vain! I was just lookin' to see if I am funny lookin' that it made Miss Lee laugh at me. And I found out that I'm much nicer to look at with my hair open than in plaits. You say still I mustn't have curls, but can't you see how much nicer I look this way——"
"Ach," interrupted her aunt, "don't talk so dumb! I guess you ain't any funnier lookin' than other people, and if you was it wouldn't matter long as you're a good girl."
"But I wouldn't be a good girl if I looked like some people I saw a'ready. If I had such big ears and crooked nose and big mouth——"
"Phoebe, you talk vonderful! Where do you get such nonsense put in your head?"
"I just think it and then I say it. But was that bad? I didn't mean it for bad."
She looked so like a cherub of absolute innocency with her deep blue eyes opened wide in wonder, her golden hair tumbled about her face and streaming over the shoulders of her white muslin nightgown, that Aunt Maria, though she had never heard of Reynolds' cherubs, was moved by the adorable picture.
"I know, Phoebe," she said kindly, "that you want to be a good girl. But you say such funny things still that I vonder sometimes if I'm raisin' you the right way. Come, hurry, now get dressed. Your pop's goin' way over to the field near Snavely's and you want to give him good-bye before he goes to work."
"I'll hurry, Aunt Maria, honest I will," the child promised and began to dress.
A little while later when she appeared in the big kitchen her father and Aunt Maria were already eating breakfast. With her hair drawn back into one uneven braid and a rusty brown dress upon her she seemed little like the adorable figure of the looking-glass, but her father's face lighted as he looked at her.
"So, Phoebe," he said, a teasing twinkle in his eyes, "I see you get up early to go to school."
"But I ain't glad to go." She refused to smile at his words.
"Ach, yes," he coaxed, "you be a good girl and like your new teacher. She's nice. I guess you'll like her when you know her once."
"Mebbe so," was the unpromising answer as she slipped the straps of a blue checked apron over her shoulders, buttoned it in the back and took her place at the table.
Breakfast at the Metz farm was no light meal. Between the early morning meal and the twelve o'clock dinner much hard work was generally accomplished and Maria Metz felt that a substantial foundation was necessary. Accordingly, she carried to the big, square cherry table in the kitchen an array of well-filled dishes. There was always a glass dish of stewed prunes or seasonable fresh fruit; a plate piled high with thick slices of home-made bread; several dishes of spreadings, as the jellies, preserves or apple-butter of that community are called. There was a generous square of home-made butter, a platter of home-cured ham or sausage, a dish of fried or creamed potatoes, a smaller dish of pickles or beets, and occasionally a dome of glistening cup cheese. The meal would have been considered incomplete without a liberal supply of cake or cookies, coffee in huge cups and yellow cream in an old-fashioned blue pitcher.
That morning Aunt Maria had prepared an extra treat, a platter of golden slices of fried mush.
The two older people partook heartily of the food before them but the child ate listlessly. Her aunt soon exclaimed, "Now, Phoebe, you must eat or you'll get hungry till recess. You know this is the first day of school and you can't run for a cookie if you get hungry. You ain't eatin'; you feel bad?"
"No, but I ain't hungry."
"Come now," urged her father, as he poured a liberal helping of molasses on his sixth piece of mush, "you must eat. You surely don't feel that bad about going to school!"
"Ach, pop," she burst out, "I don't hate the school part, the learnin' in books; that part is easy. But I don't like the teacher, and I guess she laughed at my tight braids. Mebbe if I dared wear curls—— Oh, pop, daren't I have curls? I'd like to show her that I look nice that way. Say I dare, then I won't be so funny lookin' no more!"
Jacob Metz looked at his offspring—what did the child mean? Why, he thought she was right sweet and surely her aunt kept her clean and tidy. But before he could answer his sister spoke authoritatively.
"Jacob, I wish you'd tell her once that she daren't have curls! She just plagues me all the time for 'em. Her hair was made to be kept back and not hangin' all over."
"Why then," Phoebe asked soberly, "did God make my hair curly if I daren't have curls?" She spoke with a sense of knowing that she had propounded an unanswerable question.
"That part don't matter," evaded Aunt Maria. "You ask your pop once how he wants you to have your hair fixed."
The child looked up expectantly but she read the answer in her father's face.
"I like your hair back in plaits, Phoebe. You look nice that way."
"Ach," her nose wrinkled in disgust, "not so very, I guess. Mary Warner has curls, always she has curls!"
"Come," said the father as he rose from his chair, "you be a good girl now to-day. I'm going now."
"All right, pop. I'll tell you to-night how I like the teacher."
After the breakfast dishes were washed and the other morning tasks accomplished Phoebe brought her comb and ribbons to her aunt and sat patiently on a spindle-legged kitchen chair while the woman carefully parted the long light hair and formed it into two braids, each tied at the end with a narrow brown ribbon.
"Now," Aunt Maria said as she unbuttoned the despised brown dress, "you dare put on your blue chambray dress if you take care and not get it dirty right aways."
"Oh, I'm glad for that. I like that dress best of all I have. It's not so long in the body or tight or long in the skirt like my other dresses. And blue is a prettier color than brown. I'll hurry now and get dressed."
She ran up the wide stairs, her hands skimming lightly the white hand-rail, and entered the little room known as the clothes-room, where the best clothes of the family were hung on heavy hooks fastened along the entire length of the four walls. She soon found the blue chambray dress. It was extremely simple. The plain gathered skirt was fastened to the full waist by a wide belt of the chambray. But the dress bore one distinctive feature. Instead of the usual narrow band around the neck it was adorned with a wide round collar which lay over the shoulders. Phoebe knew that the collar was vastly becoming and the knowledge always had a soothing effect upon her.
When the call of the school bell floated down the hill to the gray farmhouse Phoebe picked up her school bag and her tin lunch kettle and started off, outwardly in happier mood yet loath to go to the old schoolhouse for the first session of school.
From the Metz farm the road to the school began to ascend. Gradually it curved up-hill, then suddenly stretched out in a long, steep climb until, upon the summit of the hill, it curved sharply to the west to a wide clearing. It was to this clearing the little country schoolhouse with its wide porch and snug bell-tower called the children back to their studies.
Goldenrod and asters grew along the road, dogwood branches hung their scarlet berries over the edge of the woods, but Phoebe would have scorned to gather any of the flowers she loved and carry them to the new teacher. "I ain't bringing her any flowers," she soliloquized.
She trudged soberly ahead. As she reached the summit of the hill several children called to her. From three roads came other children, most of them carrying baskets or kettles filled with the noon lunch. All were eager for the opening of school, anxious to "see the new teacher once."
From the farm nearest the schoolhouse Phares Eby had come for his last year in the rural school. From the little cottage on the adjoining farm David Eby came whistling down the road.
"Hello, Phoebe," he called as he drew near to her. "Glad for school?"
"I ain't!" She flung the words at him. "You know good enough I ain't."
"Ha, ha," he laughed, "don't be cranky, Phoebe. Here comes Phares and he'll tell you that your eyes are black when you're cross. Won't you, Phares?"
"I——" began the sober youth, but Phoebe rudely interrupted.
"I don't care. I don't like the new teacher."
"You must like everybody," said Phares.
"Well, I just guess I won't! There's Mary Warner with her white dress and her black curls with a pink bow on them—you don't think I'm likin' her when she's got what I want and daren't have? Come on, it's time to go in," she added as Phares would have remonstrated with her for her frank avowal of jealousy. "Let's go in and see what the teacher's got on."
"Gee," whistled David, "girls are always thinking of clothes."
Phoebe gave him a disdainful look, but he laughed and walked by her side, up the three steps, across the porch and into the schoolhouse.
The red brick schoolhouse on the hill was a typical country school of Lancaster County. It had one large room with four rows of double desks and seats facing the teacher's desk and a long blackboard with its border of A B C. A stove stood in one of the corners in the front of the room. In the rear numerous hooks in the wall waited for the children's wraps and a low bench stood ready to receive their lunch baskets and kettles. Each detail of the little schoolhouse was reproduced in scores of other rural schools of that community. And yet, somehow, many of the older children felt on that first Monday a hope that their school would be different that year, that the teacher from Philadelphia would change many of the old ways and teach them, what Youth most desires, new ways, new manners, new things. It is only as the years bring wisdom that men and women appreciate the old things of life, as well as the new.
The new teacher became at once the predominating spirit of that little group. The interest of all the children, from the shy little beginners in the Primer class to the tall ones in the A class, was centered about her.
Miss Lee stood by her desk as Phoebe and the two boys entered. It was still that delightful period, before-school, when laughter could be released and voices raised without a fear of "keep quiet." The children moved to the teacher's desk as though drawn by magnetic force. Mary Warner, her dark curls hanging over her shoulders, appeared already acquainted with her. Several tiny beginners stood near the desk, a few older scholars were bravely offering their services to fetch water from Eby's "whenever it's all or you want some fresh," or else stay and clap the erasers clean.
When the second tug at the bell-rope gave the final call for the opening of school there was an air of gladness in the room. The new teacher possessed enough of the elusive "something" the country children felt belonged to a teacher from a big city like Philadelphia. The way she conducted the opening exercises, led the singing, and then proceeded with the business of arranging classes and assigning lessons served to intensify the first feelings of satisfaction. When recess came the children ran outdoors, ostensibly to play, but rather to gather into little groups and discuss the merits of the new teacher. The general verdict was, "She's all right."
"Ain't she all right?" David Eby asked Phoebe as they stood in the brown grasses near the school porch.
"Ach, don't ask me that so often!"
"But honest now, Phoebe, don't you like her?"
"I don't know."
"When will you know?"
"I don't know," came the tantalizing answer.
"Ach, sometimes, Phoebe, you make me mad! You act dumb just like the other girls sometimes."
"Then keep away from me if you don't like me," she retorted.
"Sassbox!" said the boy and walked away from her.
The little tilt with David did not improve the girl's humor. She entered the schoolroom with a sulky look on her face, her blue eyes dark and stormy. Accordingly, when Mary Warner shook her enviable curls and leaned forward to whisper ecstatically, "Phoebe, don't you just love the new teacher?" Phoebe replied very decidedly, "I do not! I don't like her at all!"
For a moment Mary held her breath, then a surprised "Oh!" came from her lips and she raised her hand and waved it frantically to attract the teacher's attention.
"What is it, Mary?"
"Why, Miss Lee, Phoebe Metz says she don't like you at all!"
"Did she ask you to tell me?" A faint flush crept into the face of the teacher.
"Then that will do, Mary."
But Phoebe Metz did not dismiss the matter so easily. She turned in her seat and gave one of Mary's obnoxious curls a vigorous yank.
"Tattle-tale!" she hurled out madly. "Big tattle-tale!"
"Yank 'em again," whispered David, seated a few seats behind the girls, but Phares called out a soft, "Phoebe, stop that."
It all occurred in a moment—the yank, the outcry of Mary, the whispers of the two boys and the subsequent pause in the matter of teaching and the centering of every child's attention upon the exciting incident and wondering what Miss Lee would do with the disturbers of the peace.
"Phoebe," the teacher's voice was controlled and forceful, "you may fold your hands. You do not seem to know what to do with them."
Phoebe folded her hands and bowed her head in shame. She hadn't meant to create a disturbance. What would her father say when he knew she was scolded the first day of school!
The teacher's voice went on, "Mary Warner, you may come to me at noon. I want to tell you a few things about tale-bearing. Phoebe may remain after the others leave this afternoon."
"Kept in!" thought Phoebe disconsolately. She was going to be kept in the first day! Never before had such punishment been meted out to her! The disgrace almost overwhelmed her.
"Now I won't ever, ever, ever like her!" she thought as she bent her head to hide the tears.
The remainder of the day was like a blurred page to her. She was glad when the other children picked up their books and empty baskets and kettles and started homeward.
"Cheer up," whispered David as he passed out, but she was too miserable to smile or answer.
"Come on, David," urged Phares when the two cousins reached outdoors and the younger one seemed reluctant to go home. "Don't stay here to pet Phoebe when she comes out."
"Ach, the poor kid"—David was all sympathy and tenderness.
"Let her get punished. Pulling Mary's hair like that!"
"Well, Mary tattled. I was wishing Phoebe'd yank that darned kid's hair half off."
"Mary just told the truth. You think everything Phoebe does is right and you help her along in her temper. She needs to be punished sometimes."
"Ach, you make me tired, standing up for a tattle-tale! Anyhow, you go on home. I'm goin' to hang round a while and see if Miss Lee does anything mean."
Phares went on alone and the other boy stole to a window and crouched to the ground.
Inside the room Phoebe waited tremblingly for the teacher to speak. It seemed ages before Miss Lee walked down the aisle and stood by the low desk.
Phoebe raised her head—the look in the dark eyes of the teacher filled her with a sudden reversion of feeling. How could she go on hating any one so beautiful!
"Phoebe, I'm sorry—I'm so sorry there has been any trouble the first day and that you have been the cause of it."
"I—ach, Miss Lee," the child blurted out half-sobbingly, "Mary, she tattled on me."
"That was wrong, of course. I made her understand that at noon. But don't you think that pulling her hair and creating a disturbance was equally wrong?"
"I guess so, mebbe. But I didn't mean to make no fuss. I—I—why, I just get so mad still! I hadn't ought to pull her hair, for that hurts vonderful much."
"Then you might tell her to-morrow how sorry you are about it."
"Yes." Phoebe looked up at the lovely face of the teacher. She felt that some explanation of Mary's tale was necessary. "Why, now," she stammered, "you know—you know that Mary said I said I don't like you?"
"Why, this summer once, early in June it was"—the child hung her head and spoke almost inaudibly—"you laughed at me and called me a LITTLE DUTCHIE!" She looked up bravely then and spoke faster, "And for that, it's just for that I don't like you like all the others do a'ready."
"Laughed at you!" Miss Lee was perplexed. "You must be mistaken."
But Phoebe shook her head resolutely and told the story of the pink rose. Miss Lee listened at first with an incredulous smile upon her face, then with dawning remembrance.
"You dear child!" she cried as Phoebe ended her quaint recital. "So you are the little girl of the sunbonnet and the rose! I thought this morning I had seen you before. But you don't understand! I didn't laugh at you in the way you think. Why, I laughed at you just as we laugh at a dear little baby, because we love it and because it is so dear and sweet. And DUTCHIE was just a pet name. Can't you understand? You were so quaint and interesting in your sunbonnet and with the pink rose pressed to your face. Can't you understand?"
Phoebe smiled radiantly, her face beaming with happiness.
"Ach, ain't that simple now of me, Miss Lee?" she said in her old-fashioned manner. "I was so dumb and thought you was makin' fun of me, and just for that all summer I was wishin' school would not start ever. And I was sayin' all the time I ain't goin' to like you. But now I do like you," she added softly.
"I am glad we understand each other, Phoebe."
Miss Lee was genuinely interested in the child, attracted by the charming personality of the country girl. Of the thirty children of that school she felt that Phoebe Metz, in spite of her old-fashioned dress and older-fashioned ways, was the preeminent figure. It would be a delight to teach a child whose face could light with so much animation.
"Now, Phoebe," she said, "since we understand each other and have become friends, gather your books and hurry home. Your mother may be anxious about you."
"Not my mother," Phoebe replied soberly. "I ain't got no mom. It's my Aunt Maria and my pop takes care of me. My mom's dead long a'ready. But I'm goin' now," she ended brightly before Miss Lee could answer. "And the road's all down-hill so it won't take me long."
So she gathered her books and kettle, said good-bye to Miss Lee and hurried from the schoolhouse. When she was fairly on the road she broke into her habit of soliloquy: "Ach, if she ain't the nicest lady! So pretty she is and so kind! She was vonderful kind after what I done. The teacher we had last year, now, he would 'a' slapped my hands with a ruler, he was awful for rulers! But she just looked at me and I was so sorry for bein' bad that I could 'a' cried. And when she touched my hands—her hands is soft like the milkweed silk we find still in the fall—I just had to like her. I like her now and I'm goin' to be a good girl for her and when I grow up I wish I'd be just like her, just esactly like her."
David Eby waited until he was certain no harm was coming to Phoebe. He heard her say, "Now I do like you" and knew that the matter was being settled satisfactorily. Relieved, yet ashamed of his eavesdropping, he ran down the road toward his home.
"That teacher's all right," he thought. "But Jimminy, girls is funny things!"
He went on, whistling, but stopped suddenly as he turned a curve in the road and saw Phares sitting on the grass in the shelter of a clump of bushes.
The older boy rose. "David," he said sternly, "you're spoiling Phoebe Metz with your petting and fooling around her. What for need you pity her when she gets kept in for being bad? She was bad!"
"She was not bad!" David defended staunchly. "That Mary Warner makes me sick. Phoebe's got some sense, anyhow, and she's not bad. There's nothing bad in her."
"Um," said Phares tauntingly, "mebbe you like her already and next you'll want her for your girl. You give her pink roses and you stay to lick the teacher for her if——"
But the sentence was never finished. At the first words David's eyes flashed, his hands doubled into hard fists and, as his cousin paid no heed to the warning, he struck out suddenly, then partially restraining his rage, he unclenched his right hand and gave Phares a smarting slap upon the mouth.
"I'll learn you," he growled, "to meddle in my business! You mind your own, d'ye hear?"
"Why"—Phares knew no words to answer the insult—"why, David," he stammered, wiping his smarting lips.
But his silence added fuel to the other's wrath.
"You butt in too much, that's what!" said David. "It's just like Phoebe says, you boss too much. I ain't going to take it no more from you."
"I—now—mebbe I do," admitted Phares.
At the words David's anger cooled. He laid a hand on the older boy's arm, as older men might have gripped hands in reconciliation. "Come on, Phares," he said in natural, friendly tones. "I hadn't ought to hit you. Let's forget all about it. You and me mustn't fight over Phoebe."
"That's so," agreed Phares, but both were thoughtful and silent as they went down the lane.
THE HEART OF A CHILD
PHOEBE'S aspiration to become like her teacher did not lessen as the days went on. Her profound admiration for Miss Lee developed into intense devotion, a devotion whose depth she carefully guarded from discovery.
To her father's interested questioning she answered a mere, "Why, I like her, for all, pop. She didn't laugh to make fun at me. I think she's nice." But secretly the little girl thought of her new teacher in the most extravagant superlatives. Her heart was experiencing its first "hero" worship; the poetic, imaginative soul of the child was attracted by the magnetic personality of Miss Lee. The teacher's smiles, mannerisms, dress, and above all, her English, were objects worthy of emulation, thought the child. At times Phoebe despaired of ever becoming like Miss Lee, then again she felt certain she had within her possibilities to become like the enviable, wonderful Virginia Lee. But she breathed to none her ambitions and hopes except at night as she knelt by her high old-fashioned bed and bent her head to say the prayer Aunt Maria had taught her in babyhood. Then to the prayer, "Now I lay me down to sleep," she added an original petition, "And please let me get like my teacher, Miss Lee. Amen."
"Aunt Maria, church is on the hill Sunday, ain't it?" she asked one day after several weeks of school.
"Yes. And I hope it's nice, for we make ready for a lot of company always when we have church here."
"Why," the child asked eagerly, "dare I ask Miss Lee to come here for dinner too that Sunday? Mary Warner's mom had her for dinner last Sunday."
"Ach, yes, I don't care. You ask her. Mebbe she ain't been in a plain church yet and would like to go with us and then come home for dinner here. You ask her once."
Phoebe trembled a bit as she invited the teacher to the gray farmhouse. "Miss Lee—why—we have church here on the hill this Sunday and Aunt Maria thought perhaps you'd like to come out and go with us and then come to our house for dinner. We always have a lot of people for dinner."
"I'd love to, Phoebe, thank you," answered Miss Lee.
The plain sects of that community were all novel to her. She was eager to attend a service in the meeting-house on the hill and especially eager to meet Phoebe's people and study the unusual child in the intimate circle of home.
"Tell your aunt I shall be very glad to go to the service with you," she said as Phoebe stood speechless with joy. "Will you go?"
"Ach, yes, I go always," with a surprised widening of the blue eyes.
"And your aunt, too?"
"Why be sure, yes! Abody don't stay home from church when it's so near. That would look like we don't want company. There's church on the hill only every six weeks and the other Sundays it's at other churches. Then we drive to those other churches and people what live near ask us to come to their house for dinner, and we go. Then when it's here on the hill we must ask people that live far off to come to us for dinner. That way everybody has a place to go. It makes it nice to go away and to have company still. We always have a lot when church is here. Aunt Maria cooks so good."
She spoke the last words innocently and looked up with an expression of wonder as she heard Miss Lee laugh gaily—now what was funny? Surely Miss Lee laughed when there was nothing at all to laugh about!
"What time does your service begin?" asked the teacher. "What time do you leave the house?"
"It takes in at nine o'clock——"
Miss Lee smothered an ejaculation of surprise.
"But we leave the house a little after half-past eight. Then we can go easy up the hill and have time to walk around on the graveyard a little and get in church early and watch the people come in."
"I'll stop for you and go with you, Phoebe."
Sunday morning at the Metz farm was no time for prolonged slumber. With the first crowing of roosters Aunt Maria rose. After the early breakfast there were numerous tasks to be performed before the departure for the meeting-house. There was the milking to be done and the cans of milk placed in the cool spring-house; the chickens and cattle to be fed; each room of the big house to be dusted; vegetables to be prepared for a hasty boiling after the return from the service; preserves and canned fruits to be brought from the cellar, placed into glass dishes and set in readiness.
At eight-fifteen Phoebe was ready. She wore her favorite blue chambray dress and delighted in the fact that Sunday always brought her the privilege of wearing her hat. The little sailor hat with its narrow ribbon and little bow was certainly not the hat she would have chosen if she might have had that pleasure, but it was the only hat she owned, so was not to be despised. She felt grateful that Aunt Maria allowed her to wear a hat. Many little girls, some smaller than she, came to church every Sunday wearing silk bonnets like their elders!—she felt grateful for her hat—any hat!
Tugging at the elastic under her chin, then smoothing her handkerchief and placing it in her sleeve—she had seen Miss Lee dispose of a handkerchief in that way—she walked to the little green gate and watched the road leading from Greenwald.