TILLIE: A MENNONITE MAID
A STORY OF THE PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH
HELEN REIMENSNYDER MARTIN
I "OH, I LOVE HER! I LOVE HER!" II "I'M GOING TO LEARN YOU ONCE!" III "WHAT'S HURTIN' YOU, TILLIE?" IV "THE DOC" COMBINES BUSINESS AND PLEASURE V "NOVELS AIN'T MORAL, DOC!" VI JAKE GETZ IN A QUANDARY VII "THE LAST DAYS OF PUMP-EYE" VIII MISS MARGARET'S ERRAND IX "I'LL DO MY DARN BEST, TEACHER!" X ADAM SCHUNK'S FUNERAL XI "POP! I FEEL TO BE PLAIN" XII ABSALOM KEEPS COMPANY XIII EZRA HERR, PEDAGOGUE XIV THE HARVARD GRADUATE XV THE WACKERNAGELS AT HOME XVI THE WACKERNAGELS "CONWERSE" XVII THE TEACHER MEETS ABSALOM XVIII TILLIE REVEALS HERSELF XIX TILLIE TELLS A LIE XX TILLIE IS "SET BACK" XXI "I'LL MARRY HIM TO-MORROW!" XXII THE DOC CONCOCTS A PLOT XXIII SUNSHINE AND SHADOW XXIV THE REVOLT OF TILLIE XXV GETZ "LEARNS" TILLIE XXVI TILLIE'S LAST FIGHT
TILLIE: A MENNONITE MAID
A STORY OF THE PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH
"OH, I LOVE HER! I LOVE HER!"
Tillie's slender little body thrilled with a peculiar ecstasy as she stepped upon the platform and felt her close proximity to the teacher—so close that she could catch the sweet, wonderful fragrance of her clothes and see the heave and fall of her bosom. Once Tillie's head had rested against that motherly bosom. She had fainted in school one morning after a day and evening of hard, hard work in her father's celery-beds, followed by a chastisement for being caught with a "story-book"; and she had come out of her faint to find herself in the heaven of sitting on Miss Margaret's lap, her head against her breast and Miss Margaret's soft hand smoothing her cheek and hair. And it was in that blissful moment that Tillie had discovered, for the first time in her young existence, that life could be worth while. Not within her memory had any one ever caressed her before, or spoken to her tenderly, and in that fascinating tone of anxious concern.
Afterward, Tillie often tried to faint again in school; but, such is Nature's perversity, she never could succeed.
School had just been called after the noon recess, and Miss Margaret was standing before her desk with a watchful eye on the troops of children crowding in from the playground to their seats, when the little girl stepped to her side on the platform.
This country school-house was a dingy little building in the heart of Lancaster County, the home of the Pennsylvania Dutch. Miss Margaret had been the teacher only a few months, and having come from Kentucky and not being "a Millersville Normal," she differed quite radically from any teacher they had ever had in New Canaan. Indeed, she was so wholly different from any one Tillie had ever seen in her life, that to the child's adoring heart she was nothing less than a miracle. Surely no one but Cinderella had ever been so beautiful! And how different, too, were her clothes from those of the other young ladies of New Canaan, and, oh, so much prettier—though not nearly so fancy; and she didn't "speak her words" as other people of Tillie's acquaintance spoke. To Tillie it was celestial music to hear Miss Margaret say, for instance, "buttah" when she meant butter-r-r, and "windo" for windah. "It gives her such a nice sound when she talks," thought Tillie.
Sometimes Miss Margaret's ignorance of the dialect of the neighborhood led to complications, as in her conversation just now with Tillie.
"Well?" she inquired, lifting the little girl's chin with her forefinger as Tillie stood at her side and thereby causing that small worshiper to blush with radiant pleasure. "What is it, honey?"
Miss Margaret always made Tillie feel that she LIKED her. Tillie wondered how Miss Margaret could like HER! What was there to like? No one had ever liked her before.
"It wonders me!" Tillie often whispered to herself with throbbing heart.
"Please, Miss Margaret," said the child, "pop says to ast you will you give me the darst to go home till half-past three this after?"
"If you go home till half-past three, you need not come back, honey—it wouldn't be worth while, when school closes at four."
"But I don't mean," said Tillie, in puzzled surprise, "that I want to go home and come back. I sayed whether I have the darst to go home till half-past three. Pop he's went to Lancaster, and he'll be back till half-past three a'ready, and he says then I got to be home to help him in the celery-beds."
Miss Margaret held her pretty head on one side, considering, as she looked down into the little girl's upturned face. "Is this a conundrum, Tillie? How your father be in Lancaster now and yet be home until half-past three? It's uncanny. Unless," she added, a ray of light coming to her,—"unless 'till' means BY. Your father will be home BY half-past three and wants you then?"
"Yes, ma'am. I can't talk just so right," said Tillie apologetically, "like what you can. Yes, sometimes I say my we's like my w's, yet!"
Miss Margaret laughed. "Bless your little heart!" she said, running her fingers through Tillie's hair. "But you would rather stay in school until four, wouldn't you, than go home to help your father in the celery-beds?"
"Oh, yes, ma'am," said Tillie wistfully, "but pop he has to get them beds through till Saturday market a'ready, and so we got to get 'em done behind Thursday or Friday yet."
"If I say you can't go home?"
Tillie colored all over her sensitive little face as, instead of answering, she nervously worked her toe into a crack in the platform.
"But your father can't blame YOU, honey, if I won't let you go home."
"He wouldn't stop to ast me was it my fault, Miss Margaret. If I wasn't there on time, he'd just—"
"All right, dear, you may go at half-past three, then," Miss Margaret gently said, patting the child's shoulder. "As soon as you have written your composition."
"Yes, ma'am, Miss Margaret."
It was hard for Tillie, as she sat at her desk that afternoon, to fix her wandering attention upon the writing of her composition, so fascinating was it just to revel idly in the sense of the touch of that loved hand that had stroked her hair, and the tone of that caressing voice that had called her "honey."
Miss Margaret always said to the composition classes, "Just try to write simply of what you see or feel, and then you will be sure to write a good 'composition.'"
Tillie was moved this afternoon to pour out on paper all that she "felt" about her divinity. But she had some misgivings as to the fitness of this.
She dwelt upon the thought of it, however, dreamily gazing out of the window near which she sat, into the blue sky of the October afternoon—until presently her ear was caught by the sound of Miss Margaret's voice speaking to Absalom Puntz, who stood at the foot of the composition class, now before her on the platform.
"You may read your composition, Absalom."
Absalom was one of "the big boys," but though he was sixteen years old and large for his age, his slowness in learning classed him with the children of twelve or thirteen. However, as learning was considered in New Canaan a superfluous and wholly unnecessary adjunct to the means of living, Absalom's want of agility in imbibing erudition never troubled him, nor did it in the least call forth the pity or contempt of his schoolmates.
Three times during the morning session he had raised his hand to announce stolidly to his long-suffering teacher, "I can't think of no subjeck"; and at last Miss Margaret had relaxed her Spartan resolution to make him do his own thinking and had helped him out.
"Write of something that is interesting you just at present. Isn't there some one thing you care more about than other things?" she had asked.
Absalom had stared at her blankly without replying.
"Now, Absalom," she had said desperately, "I think I know one thing you have been interested in lately—write me a composition on Girls."
Of course the school had greeted the advice with a laugh, and Miss Margaret had smiled with them, though she had not meant to be facetious.
Absalom, however, had taken her suggestion seriously.
"Is your composition written, Absalom?" she was asking as Tillie turned from the window, her contemplation of her own composition arrested by the sound of the voice which to her was the sweetest music in the world.
"No'm," sullenly answered Absalom. "I didn't get it through till it was time a'ready."
"But, Absalom, you've been at it this whole blessed day! You've not done another thing!"
"I wrote off some of it."
"Well," sighed Miss Margaret, "let us hear what you have done."
Absalom unfolded a sheet of paper and laboriously read:
"The only thing I took particular notice to, about Girls, is that they are always picking lint off each other, still."
He stopped and slowly folded his paper.
"But go on," said Miss Margaret. "Read it all.'
"That's all the fu'ther I got."
Miss Margaret looked at him for an instant, then suddenly lifted the lid of her desk, evidently to search for something. When she closed it her face was quite grave.
"We'll have the reading-lesson now," she announced.
Tillie tried to withdraw her attention from the teacher and fix it on her own work, but the gay, glad tone in which Lizzie Harnish was reading the lines,
"When thoughts Of the last bitter hour come like a blight Over thy spirit—"
hopelessly checked the flow of her ideas.
This class was large, and by the time Absalom's turn to read was reached, "Thanatopsis" had been finished, and so the first stanza of "The Bells" fell to him. It had transpired in the reading of "Thanatopsis" that a grave and solemn tone best suited that poem, and the value of this intelligence was made manifest when, in a voice of preternatural solemnity, he read:
"What a world of merriment their melody foretells!"
Instantly, when he had finished his "stanza," Lizzie raised her hand to offer a criticism. "Absalom, he didn't put in no gestures."
Miss Margaret's predecessor had painstakingly trained his reading-classes in the Art of Gesticulation in Public Speaking, and Miss Margaret found the results of his labors so entertaining that she had never been able to bring herself to suppress the monstrosity.
"I don't like them gestures," sulkily retorted Absalom.
"Never mind the gestures," Miss Margaret consoled him—which indifference on her part seemed high treason to the well-trained class.
"I'll hear you read, now, the list of synonyms you found in these two poems," she added. "Lizzie may read first."
While the class rapidly leafed their readers to find their lists of synonyms, Miss Margaret looked up and spoke to Tillie, reminding her gently that that composition would not be written by half-past three if she did not hasten her work.
Tillie blushed with embarrassment at being caught in an idleness that had to be reproved, and resolutely bent all her powers to her task.
She looked about the room for a subject. The walls were adorned with the print portraits of "great men,"—former State superintendents of public instruction in Pennsylvania,—and with highly colored chromo portraits of Washington, Lincoln, Grant, and Garfield. Then there were a number of framed mottos: "Education rules in America," "Rely on yourself," "God is our hope," "Dare to say No," "Knowledge is power," "Education is the chief defense of nations."
But none of these things made Tillie's genius to burn, and again her eyes wandered to the window and gazed out into the blue sky; and after a few moments she suddenly turned to her desk and rapidly wrote down her "subject"—"Evening."
The mountain of the opening sentence being crossed, the rest went smoothly enough, for Tillie wrote it from her heart.
"I love to take my little sisters and brothers and go out, still, on a hill-top when the sun is setting so red in the West, and the birds are singing around us, and the cows are coming home to be milked, and the men are returning from their day's work.
"I would love to play in the evening if I had the dare, when the children are gay and everything around me is happy.
"I love to see the flowers closing their buds when the shades of evening are come. The thought has come to me, still, that I hope the closing of my life may come as quiet and peaceful as the closing of the flowers in the evening.
"MATILDA MARIA GETZ."
Miss Margaret was just calling for Absalom's synonyms when Tillie carried her composition to the desk, and Absalom was replying with his customary half-defiant sullenness.
"My pop he sayed I ain't got need to waste my time gettin' learnt them cinnamons. Pop he says what's the use learnin' TWO words where [which] means the selfsame thing—one's enough."
Absalom's father was a school director and Absalom had grown accustomed, under the rule of Miss Margaret's predecessors, to feel the force of the fact in their care not to offend him.
"But your father is not the teacher here—I am," she cheerfully told him. "So you may stay after school and do what I require."
Tillie felt a pang of uneasiness as she went back to her seat. Absalom's father was very influential and, as all the township knew, very spiteful. He could send Miss Margaret away, and he would do it, if she offended his only child, Absalom. Tillie thought she could not bear it at all if Miss Margaret were sent away. Poor Miss Margaret did not seem to realize her own danger. Tillie felt tempted to warn her. It was only this morning that the teacher had laughed at Absalom when he said that the Declaration of Independence was "a treaty between the United States and England,"—and had asked him, "Which country, do you think, hurrahed the loudest, Absalom, when that treaty was signed?" And now this afternoon she "as much as said Absalom's father should mind to his own business!" It was growing serious. There had never been before a teacher at William Penn school-house who had not judiciously "showed partiality" to Absalom.
"And he used to be dummer yet [stupider even] than what he is now," thought Tillie, remembering vividly a school entertainment that had been given during her own first year at school, when Absalom, nine years old, had spoken his first piece. His pious Methodist grandmother had endeavored to teach him a little hymn to speak on the great occasion, while his frivolous aunt from the city of Lancaster had tried at the same time to teach him "Bobby Shafto." New Canaan audiences were neither discriminating nor critical, but the assembly before which little Absalom had risen to "speak his piece off," had found themselves confused when he told them that
"On Jordan's bank the Baptist stands, Silver buckles on his knee."
Tillie would never forget her own infantine agony of suspense as she sat, a tiny girl of five, in the audience, listening to Absalom's mistakes. But Eli Darmstetter, the teacher, had not scolded him.
Then there was the time that Absalom had forced a fight at recess and had made little Adam Oberholzer's nose bleed—it was little Adam (whose father was not at that time a school director) that had to stay after school; and though every one knew it wasn't fair, it had been accepted without criticism, because even the young rising generation of New Canaan understood the impossibility and folly of quarreling with one's means of earning money.
But Miss Margaret appeared to be perfectly blind to the perils of her position. Tillie was deeply troubled about it.
At half-past three, when, at a nod from Miss Margaret the little girl left her desk to go home, a wonderful thing happened—Miss Margaret gave her a story-book.
"You are so fond of reading, Tillie, I brought you this. You may take it home, and when you have read it, bring it back to me, and I'll give you something else to read."
Delighted as Tillie was to have the book for its own sake, it was yet greater happiness to handle something belonging to Miss Margaret and to realize that Miss Margaret had thought so much about her as to bring it to her.
"It's a novel, Tillie. Have you ever read a novel?"
"No'm. Only li-bries."
"Sunday-school li-bries. Us we're Evangelicals, and us children we go to the Sunday-school, and I still bring home li-bry books. Pop he don't uphold to novel-readin'. I have never saw a novel yet."
"Well, this book won't injure you, Tillie. You must tell me all about it when you have read it. You will find it so interesting, I'm afraid you won't be able to study your lessons while you are reading it."
Outside the school-room, Tillie looked at the title,—Ivanhoe,"—and turned over the pages in an ecstasy of anticipation.
"Oh! I love her! I love her!" throbbed her little hungry heart.
"I'M GOING TO LEARN YOU ONCE!"
Tillie was obliged, when about a half-mile from her father's farm, to hide her precious book. This she did by pinning her petticoat into a bag and concealing the book in it. It was in this way that she always carried home her "li-bries" from Sunday-school, for all story-book reading was prohibited by her father. It was uncomfortable walking along the highroad with the book knocking against her legs at every step, but that was not so painful as her father's punishment would be did he discover her bringing home a "novel"! She was not permitted to bring home even a school-book, and she had greatly astonished Miss Margaret, one day at the beginning of the term, by asking, "Please, will you leave me let my books in school? Pop says I darsen't bring 'em home."
"What you can't learn in school, you can do without," Tillie's father had said. "When you're home you'll work fur your wittles."
Tillie's father was a frugal, honest, hard-working, and very prosperous Pennsylvania Dutch farmer, who thought he religiously performed his parental duty in bringing up his many children in the fear of his heavy hand, in unceasing labor, and in almost total abstinence from all amusement and self-indulgence. Far from thinking himself cruel, he was convinced that the oftener and the more vigorously he applied "the strap," the more conscientious a parent was he.
His wife, Tillie's stepmother, was as submissive to his authority as were her five children and Tillie. Apathetic, anemic, overworked, she yet never dreamed of considering herself or her children abused, accepting her lot as the natural one of woman, who was created to be a child-bearer, and to keep man well fed and comfortable. The only variation from the deadly monotony of her mechanical and unceasing labor was found in her habit of irritability with her stepchild. She considered Tillie "a dopple" (a stupid, awkward person); for though usually a wonderful little household worker, Tillie, when very much tired out, was apt to drop dishes; and absent-mindedly she would put her sunbonnet instead of the bread into the oven, or pour molasses instead of batter on the griddle. Such misdemeanors were always plaintively reported by Mrs. Getz to Tillie's father, who, without fail, conscientiously applied what he considered the undoubted cure.
In practising the strenuous economy prescribed by her husband, Mrs. Getz had to manoeuver very skilfully to keep her children decently clothed, and Tillie in this matter was a great help to her; for the little girl possessed a precocious skill in combining a pile of patches into a passably decent dress or coat for one of her little brothers or sisters. Nevertheless, it was invariably Tillie who was slighted in the small expenditures that were made each year for the family clothing. The child had always really preferred that the others should have "new things" rather than herself—until Miss Margaret came; and now, before Miss Margaret's daintiness, she felt ashamed of her own shabby appearance and longed unspeakably for fresh, pretty clothes. Tillie knew perfectly well that her father had plenty of money to buy them for her if he would. But she never thought of asking him or her stepmother for anything more than what they saw fit to give her.
The Getz family was a perfectly familiar type among the German farming class of southeastern Pennsylvania. Jacob Getz, though spoken of in the neighborhood as being "wonderful near," which means very penurious, and considered by the more gentle-minded Amish and Mennonites of the township to be "overly strict" with his family and "too ready with the strap still," was nevertheless highly respected as one who worked hard and was prosperous, lived economically, honestly, and in the fear of the Lord, and was "laying by."
The Getz farm was typical of the better sort to be found in that county. A neat walk, bordered by clam shells, led from a wooden gate to the porch of a rather large, and severely plain frame house, facing the road. Every shutter on the front and sides of the building was tightly closed, and there was no sign of life about the place. A stranger, ignorant of the Pennsylvania Dutch custom of living in the kitchen and shutting off the "best rooms,"—to be used in their mustiness and stiff unhomelikeness on Sunday only,—would have thought the house temporarily empty. It was forbiddingly and uncompromisingly spick-and-span.
A grass-plot, ornamented with a circular flower-bed, extended a short distance on either side of the house. But not too much land was put to such unproductive use; and the small lawn was closely bordered by a corn-field on the one side and on the other by an apple orchard. Beyond stretched the tobacco—and wheat-fields, and behind the house were the vegetable garden and the barn-yard.
Arrived at home by half-past three, Tillie hid her "Ivanhoe" under the pillow of her bed when she went up-stairs to change her faded calico school dress for the yet older garment she wore at her work.
If she had not been obliged to change her dress, she would have been puzzled to know how to hide her book, for she could not, without creating suspicion, have gone up-stairs in the daytime. In New Canaan one never went up-stairs during the day, except at the rare times when obliged to change one's clothes. Every one washed at the pump and used the one family roller-towel hanging on the porch. Miss Margaret, ever since her arrival in the neighborhood, had been the subject of wide-spread remark and even suspicion, because she "washed up-stairs" and even sat up-stairs!—in her bedroom! It was an unheard-of proceeding in New Canaan.
Tillie helped her father in the celery-beds until dark; then, weary, but excited at the prospect of her book, she went in from the fields and up-stairs to the little low-roofed bed-chamber which she shared with her two half-sisters. They were already in bed and asleep, as was their mother in the room across the hall, for every one went to bed at sundown in Canaan Township, and got up at sunrise.
Tillie was in bed in a few minutes, rejoicing in the feeling of the book under her pillow. Not yet dared she venture to light a candle and read it—not until she should hear her father's heavy snoring in the room across the hall.
The candles which she used for this surreptitious reading of Sunday-school "li-bries" and any other chance literature which fell in her way, were procured with money paid to her by Miss Margaret for helping her to clean the school-room on Friday afternoons after school. Tillie would have been happy to help her for the mere joy of being with her, but Miss Margaret insisted upon paying her ten cents for each such service.
The little girl was obliged to resort to a deep-laid plot in order to do this work for the teacher. It had been her father's custom—ever since, at the age of five, she had begun to go to school—to "time" her in coming home at noon and afternoon, and whenever she was not there on the minute, to mete out to her a dose of his ever-present strap.
"I ain't havin' no playin' on the way home, still! When school is done, you come right away home then, to help me or your mom, or I 'll learn you once!"
But it happened that Miss Margaret, in her reign at "William Perm" school-house, had introduced the innovation of closing school on Friday afternoons at half-past three instead of four, and Tillie, with bribes of candy bought with part of her weekly wage of ten cents, secured secrecy as to this innovation from her little sister and brother who went to school with her—making them play in the school-grounds until she was ready to go home with them.
Before Miss Margaret had come to New Canaan, Tillie had done her midnight reading by the light of the kerosene lamp which, after every one was asleep, she would bring up from the kitchen to her bedside. But this was dangerous, as it often led to awkward inquiries as to the speedy consumption of the oil. Candles were safer. Tillie kept them and a box of matches hidden under the mattress.
It was eleven o'clock when at last the child, trembling with mingled delight and apprehension, rose from her bed, softly closed her bedroom door, and with extremely judicious carefulness lighted her candle, propped up her pillow, and settled down to read as long as she should be able to hold her eyes open. The little sister at her side and the one in the bed at the other side of the room slept too soundly to be disturbed by the faint flickering light of that one candle.
To-night her stolen pleasure proved more than usually engrossing. At first the book was interesting principally because of the fact, so vividly present with her, that Miss Margaret's eyes and mind had moved over every word and thought which, she was now absorbing. But soon her intense interest in the story excluded every other idea—even the fear of discovery. Her young spirit was "out of the body" and following, as in a trance, this tale, the like of which she had never before read.
The clock down-stairs in the kitchen struck twelve—one—two, but Tillie never heard it. At half-past two o'clock in the morning, when the tallow candle was beginning to sputter to its end, she still was reading, her eyes bright as stars, her usually pale face flushed with excitement, her sensitive lips parted in breathless interest—when, suddenly, a stinging blow of "the strap" on her shoulders brought from her a cry of pain and fright.
"What you mean, doin' somepin like, this yet!" sternly demanded her father. "What fur book's that there?"
He took the book from her hands and Tillie cowered beneath the covers, the wish flashing through her mind that the book could change into a Bible as he looked at it!—which miracle would surely temper the punishment that in a moment she knew would be meted out to her.
"'Iwanhoe'—a novel! A NOVEL!" he said in genuine horror. "Tillie, where d'you get this here!"
Tillie knew that if she told lies she would go to hell, but she preferred to burn in torment forever rather than betray Miss Margaret; for her father, like Absalom's, was a school director, and if he knew Miss Margaret read novels and lent them to the children, he would surely force her out of "William Penn."
"I lent it off of Elviny Dinkleberger!" she sobbed.
"You know I tole you a'ready you darsen't bring books home! And you know I don't uphold to novel-readin'! I 'll have to learn you to mind better 'n this! Where d' you get that there candle?"
"I—bought it, pop."
"Bought? Where d'you get the money!"
Tillie did not like the lies she had to tell, but she knew she had already perjured her soul beyond redemption and one lie more or less could not make matters worse.
"I found it in the road."
"How much did you find?"
"You hadn't ought to spent it without astin' me dare you. Now I'm goin' to learn you once! Set up."
Tillie obeyed, and the strap fell across her shoulders. Her outcries awakened the household and started the youngest little sister, in her fright and sympathy with Tillie, to a high-pitched wailing. The rest of them took the incident phlegmatically, the only novelty about it being the strange hour of its happening.
But the hardest part of her punishment was to follow.
"Now this here book goes in the fire!" her father announced when at last his hand was stayed. "And any more that comes home goes after it in the stove, I'll see if you 'll mind your pop or not!"
Left alone in her bed, her body quivering, her little soul hot with shame and hatred, the child stifled her sobs in her pillow, her whole heart one bleeding wound.
How could she ever tell Miss Margaret? Surely she would never like her any more!—never again lay her hand on her hair, or praise her compositions, or call her "honey," or, even, perhaps, allow her to help her on Fridays!—and what, then, would be the use of living? If only she could die and be dead like a cat or a bird and not go to hell, she would take the carving-knife and kill herself! But there was hell to be taken into consideration. And yet, could hell hold anything worse than the loss of Miss Margaret's kindness? HOW could she tell her of that burned-up book and endure to see her look at her with cold disapproval? Oh, to make such return for her kindness, when she so longed with all her soul to show her how much she loved her!
For the first time in all her school-days, Tillie went next morning with reluctance to school.
"WHAT'S HURTIN' YOU, TILLIE?"
She meant to make her confession as soon as she reached the school-house—and have it over—but Miss Margaret was busy writing on the blackboard, and Tillie felt an immense relief at the necessary postponement of her ordeal to recess time.
The hours of that morning were very long to her heavy heart, and the minutes dragged to the time of her doom—for nothing but blackness lay beyond the point of the acknowledgment which must turn her teacher's fondness to dislike.
She saw Miss Margaret's eyes upon her several times during the morning, with that look of anxious concern which had so often fed her starved affections. Yes, Miss Margaret evidently could see that she was in trouble and she was feeling sorry for her. But, alas, when she should learn the cause of her misery, how surely would that look turn to coldness and displeasure!
Tillie felt that she was ill preparing the way for her dread confession in the very bad recitations she made all morning. She failed in geography—every question that came to her; she failed to understand Miss Margaret's explanation of compound interest, though the explanation was gone over a third time for her especial benefit; she missed five words in spelling and two questions in United States history!
"Tillie, Tillie!" Miss Margaret solemnly shook her head, as she closed her book at the end of the last recitation before recess. "Too much 'Ivanhoe,' I'm afraid! Well, it's my fault, isn't it?"
The little girl's blue eyes gazed up at her with a look of such anguish, that impulsively Miss Margaret drew her to her side, as the rest of the class moved away to their seats.
"What's the matter, dear?" she asked. "Aren't you well? You look pale and ill! What is it, Tillie?"
Tillie's overwrought heart could bear no more. Her head fell on Miss Margaret's shoulder as she broke into wildest crying. Her body quivered with her gasping sobs and her little hands clutched convulsively at Miss Margaret's gown.
"You poor little thing!" whispered Miss Margaret, her arms about the child; "WHAT'S the matter with you, honey? There, there, don't cry so—tell me what's the matter."
It was such bliss to be petted like this—to feel Miss Margaret's arms about her and hear that loved voice so close to her!—for the last time! Never again after this moment would she be liked and caressed! Her heart was breaking and she could not answer for her sobbing.
"Tillie, dear, sit down here in my chair until I send the other children out to recess—and then you and I can have a talk by ourselves," Miss Margaret said, leading the child a step to her arm-chair on the platform. She stood beside the chair, holding Tillie's throbbing head to her side, while she tapped the bell which dismissed the children.
"Now," she said, when the door had closed on the last of them and she had seated herself and drawn Tillie to her again, "tell me what you are crying for, little girlie."
"Miss Margaret!" Tillie's words came in hysterical, choking gasps; "you won't never like me no more when I tell you what's happened, Miss Margaret!"
"Why, dear me, Tillie, what on earth is it?"
"I didn't mean to do it, Miss Margaret! And I'll redd up for you, Fridays, still, till it's paid for a'ready, Miss Margaret, if you'll leave me, won't you, please? Oh, won't you never like me no more?"
"My dear little goosie, what IS the matter with you? Come," she said, taking the little girl's hand reassuringly in both her own, "tell me, child."
A certain note of firmness in her usually drawling Southern voice checked a little the child's hysterical emotion. She gulped the choking lump in her throat and answered.
"I was readin' 'Ivanhoe' in bed last night, and pop woke up, and seen my candle-light, and he conceited he'd look once and see what it was, and then he seen me, and he don't uphold to novel-readin', and he—he—"
"Well?" Miss Margaret gently urged her faltering speech.
"He whipped me and—and burnt up your Book!"
"Whipped you again!" Miss Margaret's soft voice indignantly exclaimed. "The br—" she checked herself and virtuously closed her lips. "I'm so sorry, Tillie, that I got you into such a scrape!"
Tillie thought Miss Margaret could not have heard her clearly.
"He—burnt up your book yet, Miss Margaret!" she found voice to whisper again.
"Indeed! I ought to make him pay for it!"
"He didn't know it was yourn, Miss Margaret—he don't uphold to novel-readin', and if he'd know it was yourn he'd have you put out of William Penn, so I tole him I lent it off of Elviny Dinkleberger—and I'll help you Fridays till it's paid for a'ready, if you'll leave me, Miss Margaret!"
She lifted pleading eyes to the teacher's face, to see therein a look of anger such as she had never before beheld in that gentle countenance—for Miss Margaret had caught sight of the marks of the strap on Tillie's bare neck, and she was flushed with indignation at the outrage. But Tillie, interpreting the anger to be against herself, turned as white as death, and a look of such hopeless woe came into her face that Miss Margaret suddenly realized the dread apprehension torturing the child.
"Come here to me, you poor little thing!" she tenderly exclaimed, drawing the little girl into her lap and folding her to her heart. "I don't care anything about the BOOK, honey! Did you think I would? There, there—don't cry so, Tillie, don't cry. I love you, don't you know I do!"—and Miss Margaret kissed the child's quivering lips, and with her own fragrant handkerchief wiped the tears from her cheeks, and with her soft, cool fingers smoothed back the hair from her hot forehead.
And this child, who had never known the touch of a mother's hand and lips, was transported in that moment from the suffering of the past night and morning, to a happiness that made this hour stand out to her, in all the years that followed, as the one supreme experience of her childhood.
Ineffable tenderness of the mother heart of woman!
That afternoon, when Tillie got home from school,—ten minutes late according to the time allowed her by her father,—she was quite unable to go out to help him in the field. Every step of the road home had been a dragging burden to her aching limbs, and the moment she reached the farm-house, she tumbled in a little heap upon the kitchen settee and lay there, exhausted and white, her eyes shining with fever, her mouth parched with thirst, her head throbbing with pain—feeling utterly indifferent to the consequences of her tardiness and her failure to meet her father in the field.
"Ain't you feelin' good?" her stepmother phlegmatically inquired from across the room, where she sat with a dish-pan in her lap, paring potatoes for supper.
"No, ma'am," weakly answered Tillie.
"Pop 'll be looking fur you out in the field."
Tillie wearily closed her eyes and did not answer.
Mrs. Getz looked up from her pan and let her glance rest for an instant upon the child's white, pained face. "Are you feelin' too mean to go help pop?"
"Yes, ma'am. I—can't!" gasped Tillie, with a little sob.
"You ain't lookin' good," the woman reluctantly conceded. "Well, I'll leave you lay a while. Mebbe pop used the strap too hard last night. He sayed this dinner that he was some uneasy that he used the strap so hard—but he was that wonderful spited to think you'd set up readin' a novel-book in the night-time yet! You might of knew you'd ketch an awful lickin' fur doin' such a dumm thing like what that was. Sammy!" she called to her little eight-year-old son, who was playing on the kitchen porch, "you go out and tell pop Tillie she's got sick fur me, and I'm leavin' her lay a while. Now hurry on, or he'll come in here to see, once, ain't she home yet, or what. Go on now!"
Sammy departed on his errand, and Mrs. Getz diligently resumed her potato-paring.
"I don't know what pop'll say to you not comin' out to help," she presently remarked.
Tillie's head moved restlessly, but she did not speak. She was past caring what her father might say or do.
Mrs. Getz thoughtfully considered a doubtful potato, and, concluding at length to discard it, "I guess," she said, throwing it back into the pan, "I'll let that one; it's some poor. Do you feel fur eatin' any supper?" she asked. "I'm havin' fried smashed-potatoes and wieners [Frankfort sausages]. Some days I just don't know what to cook all."
Tillie's lips moved, but gave no sound.
"I guess you're right down sick fur all; ain't? I wonder if pop'll have Doc in. He won't want to spend any fur that. But you do look wonderful bad. It's awful onhandy comin' just to-day. I did feel fur sayin' to pop I'd go to the rewiwal to-night, of he didn't mind. It's a while back a'ready since I was to a meetin'—not even on a funeral. And they say they do now make awful funny up at Bethel rewiwal this week. I was thinkin' I'd go once. But if you can't redd up after supper and help milk and put the childern to bed, I can't go fur all."
No response from Tillie.
Mrs. Getz sighed her disappointment as she went on with her work. Presently she spoke again. "This after, a lady agent come along. She had such a complexion lotion. She talked near a half-hour. She was, now, a beautiful conversationist! I just set and listened. Then she was some spited that I wouldn't buy a box of complexion lotion off of her. But she certainly was, now, a beautiful conversationist!"
The advent of an agent in the neighborhood was always a noteworthy event, and Tillie's utterly indifferent reception of the news that to-day one had "been along" made Mrs. Getz look at her wonderingly.
"Are you too sick to take interest?" she asked.
The child made no answer. The woman rose to put her potatoes on the stove.
It was an hour later when, as Tillie still lay motionless on the settee, and Mrs. Getz was dishing up the supper and putting it on the table, which stood near the wall at one end of the kitchen, Mr. Getz came in, tired, dirty, and hungry, from the celery-beds.
The child opened her eyes at the familiar and often dreaded step, and looked up at him as he came and stood over her.
"What's the matter? What's hurtin' you, Tillie?" he asked, an unwonted kindness in his voice as he saw how ill the little girl looked.
"I don'—know," Tillie whispered, her heavy eyelids falling again.
"You don' know! You can't be so worse if you don' know what's hurtin' you! Have you fever, or the headache, or whatever?"
He laid his rough hand on her forehead and passed it over her cheek.
"She's some feverish," he said, turning to his wife, who was busy at the stove. "Full much so!"
"She had the cold a little, and I guess she's took more to it," Mrs. Getz returned, bearing the fried potatoes across the kitchen to the table.
"I heard the Doc talkin' there's smallpox handy to us, only a mile away at New Canaan," said Getz, a note of anxiety in his voice that made the sick child wearily marvel. Why was he anxious about her? she wondered. It wasn't because he liked her, as Miss Margaret did. He was afraid of catching smallpox himself, perhaps. Or he was afraid she would be unable to help him to-morrow, and maybe for many days, out in the celery-beds. That was why he spoke anxiously—not because he liked her and was sorry.
No bitterness was mingled with Tillie's quite matter-of-fact acceptance of these conclusions.
"It would be a good much trouble to us if she was took down with the smallpox," Mrs. Getz's tired voice replied.
"I guess not as much as it would be to HER," the father said, a rough tenderness in his voice, and something else which Tillie vaguely felt to be a note of pain.
"Are you havin' the Doc in fur her, then?" his wife asked.
"I guess I better, mebbe," the man hesitated. His thrifty mind shrank at the thought of the expense.
He turned again to Tillie and bent over her.
"Can't you tell pop what's hurtin' you, Tillie?"
Mr. Getz looked doubtfully and rather helplessly at his wife. "It's a bad sign, ain't, when they can't tell what's hurtin' 'em?"
"I don't know what fur sign that is when they don't feel nothin'," she stoically answered, as she dished up her Frankfort sausages.
"If a person would just know oncet!" he exclaimed anxiously. "Anyhow, she's pretty much sick—she looks it so! I guess I better mebbe not take no risks. I'll send fur Doc over. Sammy can go, then."
"All right. Supper's ready now. You can come eat."
She went to the door to call the children in front the porch and the lawn; and Mr. Getz again bent over the child.
"Can you eat along, Tillie?"
Tillie weakly shook her head.
"Don't you feel fur your wittles?"
"Well, well. I'll send fur the Doc, then, and he can mebbe give you some pills, or what, to make you feel some better; ain't?" he said, again passing his rough hand over her forehead and cheek, with a touch as nearly like a caress as anything Tillie had ever known from him. The tears welled up in her eyes and slowly rolled over her white face, as she felt this unwonted expression of affection.
Her father turned away quickly and went to the table, about which the children were gathering.
"Where's Sammy?" he asked his wife. "I'm sendin' him fur the Doc after supper."
"Where? I guess over," she motioned with her head as she lifted the youngest, a one-year-old boy, into his high chair. "Over" was the family designation for the pump, at which every child of a suitable age was required to wash his face and hands before coming to the table.
While waiting for the arrival of the doctor, after supper, Getz ineffectually tried to force Tillie to eat something. In his genuine anxiety about her and his eagerness for "the Doc's" arrival, he quite forgot about the fee which would have to be paid for the visit.
"THE DOC" COMBINES BUSINESS AND PLEASURE
Miss Margaret boarded at the "hotel" of New Canaan. As the only other regular boarder was the middle-aged, rugged, unkempt little man known as "the Doc," and as the transient guests were very few and far between, Miss Margaret shared the life of the hotel-keeper's family on an intimate and familiar footing.
The invincible custom of New Canaan of using a bedroom only at night made her unheard-of inclination to sit in her room during the day or before bedtime the subject of so much comment and wonder that, feeling it best to yield to the prejudice, she usually read, sewed, or wrote letters in the kitchen, or, when a fire was lighted, in the combination dining-room and sitting-room.
It was the evening of the day of Tillie's confession about "Ivanhoe," and Miss Margaret, after the early supper-hour of the country hotel, had gone to the sitting-room, removed the chenille cover from the centre-table, uncorked the bottle of fluid sold at the village store as ink, but looking more like raspberryade, and settled herself to write, to one deeply interested in everything which interested her, an account of her day and its episode with the little daughter of Jacob Getz.
This room in which she sat, like all other rooms of the district, was too primly neat to be cozy or comfortable. It contained a bright new rag carpet, a luridly painted wooden settee, a sewing-machine, and several uninviting wooden chairs. Margaret often yearned to pull the pieces of furniture out from their stiff, sentinel-like stations against the wall and give to the room that divine touch of homeyness which it lacked. But she did not dare venture upon such a liberty.
Very quickly absorbed in her letter-writing, she did not notice the heavy footsteps which presently sounded across the floor and paused at her chair.
"Now that there writin'—" said a gruff voice at her shoulder; and, startled, she quickly turned in her chair, to find the other boarder, "the Doc," leaning on the back of it, his shaggy head almost on a level with her fair one.
"That there writin'," pursued the doctor, continuing to hold his fat head in unabashed proximity to her own and to her letter, "is wonderful easy to read. Wonderful easy."
Miss Margaret promptly covered her letter with a blotter, corked the raspberry-ade, and rose.
"Done a'ready?" asked the doctor.
"For the present, yes."
"See here oncet, Teacher!"
He suddenly fixed her with his small, keen eyes as he drew from the pocket of his shabby, dusty coat a long, legal-looking paper.
"I have here," he said impressively, "an important dokiment, Teacher, concerning of which I desire to consult you perfessionally."
"You just stay settin'; I'll fetch a chair and set aside of you and show it to you oncet."
He drew a chair up to the table and Margaret reluctantly sat down, feeling annoyed and disappointed at this interruption of her letter, yet unwilling, in the goodness of her heart, to snub the little man.
The doctor bent near to her and spoke confidentially.
"You see, them swanged fools in the legislature has went to work and passed a act—ag'in' my protest, mind you—compellin' doctors to fill out blanks answerin' to a lot of darn-fool questions 'bout one thing and 'nother, like this here."
He had spread open on the table the paper he had drawn from his pocket. It was soiled from contact with his coat and his hands, and Margaret, instead of touching the sheet, pressed it down with the handle of her pen.
The doctor noticed the act and laughed. "You're wonderful easy kreistled [disgusted]; ain't? I took notice a'ready how when things is some dirty they kreistle you, still. But indeed, Teacher," he gravely added, "it ain't healthy to wash so much and keep so clean as what you do. It's weakenin'. That's why city folks ain't so hearty—they get right into them big, long tubs they have built in their houses up-stairs! I seen one oncet in at Doc Hess's in Lancaster. I says to him when I seen it, 'You wouldn't get me into THAT—it's too much like a coffin!' I says. 'It would make a body creepy to get in there.' And he says, 'I'd feel creepy if I DIDN'T get in.' 'Yes,' I says,'that's why you're so thin. You wash yourself away,' I says."
"What's it all about?" Miss Margaret abruptly asked, examining the paper.
"These here's the questions," answered the doctor, tracing them with his thick, dirty forefinger; "and these here's the blank spaces fur to write the answers into. Now you can write better 'n me, Teacher; and if you'll just take and write in the answers fur me, why, I'll do a favor fur you some time if ever you ast it off of me. And if ever you need a doctor, just you call on me, and I'm swanged if I charge you a cent!"
Among the simple population of New Canaan the Doc was considered the most blasphemous man in America, but there seemed to be a sort of general impression in the village that his profanity was, in some way, an eccentricity of genius.
"Thank you," Miss Margaret responded to his offer of free medical services. "I'll fill out the paper for you with pleasure."
She read aloud the first question of the list. '"Where did you attend lectures?'"
Her pen suspended over the paper, she looked at him inquiringly. "Well?" she asked.
"Lekshures be blowed!" he exclaimed. "I ain't never 'tended no lekshures!"
"Oh!" said Miss Margaret, nodding conclusively. "Well, then, let us pass on to the next question. 'To what School of Medicine do you belong?'"
"School?" repeated the doctor; "I went to school right here in this here town—it's better 'n thirty years ago, a'ready."
"No," Miss Margaret explained, "that's not the question. 'To what School of MEDICINE do you belong?' Medicine, you know," she repeated, as though talking to a deaf person.
"Oh," said the doctor, "medicine, is it? I never have went to none," he announced defiantly. "I studied medicine in old Doctor Johnson's office and learnt it by practisin' it. That there's the only way to learn any business. Do you suppose you could learn a boy carpenterin' by settin' him down to read books on sawin' boards and a-lekshurin' him on drivin' nails? No more can you make a doctor in no such swanged-fool way like that there!"
"But," said Margaret, "the question means do you practise allopathy, homeopathy, hydropathy, osteopathy,—or, for instance, eclecticism? Are you, for example, a homeopathist?"
"Gosh!" said the doctor, looking at her admiringly, "I'm blamed if you don't know more big words than I ever seen in a spellin'-book or heard at a spellin'-bee! Home-o-pathy? No, sir! When I give a dose to a patient, still, he 'most always generally finds it out, and pretty gosh-hang quick too! When he gits a dose of my herb bitters he knows it good enough. Be sure, I don't give babies, and so forth, doses like them. All such I treat, still, according to home-o-pathy, and not like that swanged fool, Doc Hess, which only last week he give a baby a dose fitten only fur a field-hand—and HE went to college!—Oh, yes!—and heerd lekshures too! Natural consequence, the baby up't and died fur 'em. But growed folks they need allopathy."
"Then," said Margaret, "you might be called an eclectic?"
"A eclectic?" the doctor inquiringly repeated, rubbing his nose. "To be sure, I know in a general way what a eclectic IS, and so forth. But what would YOU mean, anyhow, by a eclectic doctor, so to speak, heh?"
"An eclectic," Margaret explained, "is one who claims to adopt whatever is good and reject whatever is bad in every system or school of medicine."
"If that ain't a description of me yet!" exclaimed the doctor, delighted. "Write 'em down, Teacher! I'm a—now what d'you call 'em?"
"You certainly are a what-do-you-call-'em!" thought Margaret—but she gravely repeated, "An eclectic," and wrote the name in the blank space.
"And here I've been practisin' that there style of medicine fur fifteen years without oncet suspicioning it! That is," he quickly corrected himself, in some confusion, "I haven't, so to speak, called it pretty often a eclectic, you see, gosh hang it! and—YOU understand, don't you, Teacher?"
Margaret understood very well indeed, but she put the question by.
The rest of the blank was filled with less difficulty, and in a few minutes the paper was folded and returned to the doctor's pocket.
"I'm much obliged to you, Teacher," he said heartily. "And mind, now," he added, leaning far back in his chair, crossing his legs, thrusting his thumbs into his vest pockets, and letting his eyes rest upon her, "if ever you want a doctor, I ain't chargin' you nothin'; and leave me tell you somethin'," he said, emphasizing each word by a shake of his forefinger, "Jake Getz and Nathaniel Puntz they're the two school directors that 'most always makes trouble fur the teacher. And I pass you my word that if they get down on you any, and want to chase you off your job, I'm standin' by you—I pass you my word!"
"Thank you. But what would they get down on me for?"
"Well, if Jake Getz saw you standin' up for his childern against his lickin' 'em or makin' 'em work hard; or if you wanted to make 'em take time to learn their books at home when he wants 'em to work—or some such—he'd get awful down on you. And Nathaniel Puntz he 's just the conTRARY—he wants his n' spoiled—he's got but the one."
Miss Margaret recalled with a little thrill the loyalty with which Tillie had tried to save her from her father's anger by telling him that Elviny Dinkleberger had lent her "Ivanhoe." "I suppose I had a narrow escape there," she thought. "Poor little Tillie! She is so conscientious—I can fancy what that lie cost her!"
Gathering up her stationery, she made a movement to rise—but the doctor checked her with a question.
"Say! Not that I want to ast questions too close—but what was you writin', now, in that letter of yourn, about Jake Getz?"
Miss Margaret was scarcely prepared for the question. She stared at the man for an instant, then helplessly laughed at him.
"Well," he said apologetically, "I don't mean to be inquisitive that way—but sometimes I speak unpolite too—fur all I've saw high society a'ready!" he added, on the defensive. "Why, here one time I went in to Lancaster City to see Doc Hess, and he wouldn't have it no other way but I should stay and eat along. 'Och,' I says, 'I don't want to, I'm so common that way, and I know yous are tony and it don't do. I'll just pick a piece [have luncheon] at the tavern,' I says. But no, he says I was to come eat along. So then I did. And his missus she was wonderful fashionable, but she acted just that nice and common with me as my own mother or my wife yet. And that was the first time I have eat what the noos-papers calls a course dinner. They was three courses. First they was soup and nothin' else settin' on the table, and then a colored young lady come in with such a silver pan and such a flat, wide knife, and she scraped the crumbs off between every one of them three courses. I felt awful funny. I tell you they was tony. I sayed to the missus, 'I hadn't ought to of came here. I'm not grand enough like yous'; but she sayed, 'It's nothing of the kind, and you're always welcome.' Yes, she made herself that nice and common!" concluded the doctor. "So you see I have saw high society."
"Yes," Miss Margaret assented.
"Say!" he suddenly put another question to her. "Why don't you get married?"
"Well," she parried, "why don't YOU?"
"I was married a'ready. My wife she died fur me. She was layin' three months. She got so sore layin'. It was when we was stoppin' over in Chicago yet. That's out in Illinois. Then, when she died,—och," he said despondently, "there fur a while I didn't take no interest in nothin' no more. When your wife dies, you don't feel fur nothin'. Yes, yes," he sighed, "people have often troubles! Oh," he granted, "I went to see other women since. But," shaking his head in discouragement, "it didn't go. I think I'm better off if I stay single. Yes, I stay single yet. Well," he reconsidered the question, his head on one side as he examined the fair lady before him, "if I could get one to suit me oncet."
Miss Margaret grew alarmed. But the doctor complacently continued, "When my wife died fur me I moved fu'ther west, and I got out as fur as Utah yet. That's where they have more 'n one wife. I thought, now, that there was a poor practice! One woman would do ME. Say!" he again fixed her with his eye.
"Do you like your job?"
"Well," she tentatively answered, "it's not uninteresting."
"Would you ruther keep your job than quit and get married?"
"Or," quickly added the doctor, "you might jus keep on teachin' the school after you was married, if you married some one livin' right here. Ain't? And if you kep' on the right side of the School Board. Unlest you'd ruther marry a town fellah and give up your job out here. Some thinks the women out here has to work too hard; but if they married a man where [who] was well fixed," he said, insinuatingly, "he could hire fur 'em [keep a servant]. Now, there's me. I'm well fixed. I got money plenty."
"You are very fortunate," said Miss Margaret, sympathetically.
"Yes, ain't? And I ain't got no one dependent on me, neither. No brothers, no sisters, no—wife—" he looked at her with an ingratiating smile. "Some says I'm better off that way, but sometimes I think different. Sometimes I think I'd like a wife oncet."
"Yes?" said Miss Margaret.
"Um—m," nodded the doctor. "Yes, and I'm pretty well fixed. I wasn't always so comfortable off. It went a long while till I got to doin' pretty good, and sometimes I got tired waitin' fur my luck to come. It made me ugly dispositioned, my bad luck did. That's how I got in the way of addicting to profane language. I sayed, still, I wisht, now, the good Lord would try posperity on me fur a while—fur adwersity certainly ain't makin' me a child of Gawd, I sayed. But now," he added, rubbing his knees with satisfaction, "I'm fixed nice. Besides my doctor's fees, I got ten acres, and three good hommies that'll be cows till a little while yet. And that there organ in the front room is my property. Bought it fifteen years ago on the instalment plan. I leave missus keep it settin' in her parlor fur style that way. Do you play the organ?"
"I CAN," was Miss Margaret's qualified answer.
"I always liked music—high-class music—like 'Pinnyfore.' That's a nopery I heard in Lancaster there one time at the rooft-garden. That was high-toned music, you bet. No trash about that. Gimme somepin nice and ketchy. That's what I like. If it ain't ketchy, I don't take to it. And so," he added admiringly, "you can play the organ too!"
"That's one of my distinguished accomplishments," said Miss Margaret.
"Well, say!" The doctor leaned forward and took her into his confidence. "I don't mind if my wife is smart, so long as she don't bother ME any!"
With this telling climax, the significance of which Miss Margaret could hardly mistake, the doctor fell back again in his chair, and regarded with complacency the comely young woman before him.
But before she could collect her shocked wits to reply, the entrance of Jake Getz's son, Sammy, interrupted them. He had come into the house at the kitchen door, and, having announced the object of his errand to the landlady, who, by the way, was his father's sister, he was followed into the sitting-room by a procession, consisting of his aunt, her husband, and their two little daughters.
Sammy was able to satisfy but meagerly the eager curiosity or interest of the household as to Tillie's illness, and his aunt, cousins, and uncle presently returned to their work in the kitchen or out of doors, while the doctor rose reluctantly to go to the stables to hitch up.
"Pop says to say you should hurry," said Sammy.
"There's time plenty," petulantly answered the doctor. "I conceited I'd stay settin' with you this evening," he said regretfully to Miss Margaret. "But a doctor can't never make no plans to stay no-wheres! Well!" he sighed, "I'll go round back now and hitch a while."
"Sammy," said Miss Margaret, when she found herself alone with the child, "wasn't your mother afraid YOU would get ill, coming over here, on such a cool evening, barefooted?" "Och, no; she leaves me let my shoes off near till it snows already. The teacher we had last year he used to do worse 'n that yet!—HE'D WASH HIS FEET IN THE WINTER-TIME!" said Sammy, in the tone of one relating a deed of valor. "I heard Aunty Em speak how he washed 'em as much as oncet a week, still, IN WINTER! The Doc he sayed no wonder that feller took cold!"
Miss Margaret gazed at the child with a feeling of fascination. "But, Sammy," she said wonderingly, "your front porches get a weekly bath in winter—do the people of New Canaan wash their porches oftener than they wash themselves?"
"Porches gets dirty," reasoned Sammy. "Folks don't get dirty in winter-time. Summer's the time they get dirty, and then they mebbe wash in the run."
"Oh!" said Miss Margaret.
During the six weeks of her life in Canaan, she had never once seen in this or any other household the least sign of any toilet appointments, except a tin basin at the pump, a roller-towel on the porch, and a small mirror in the kitchen. Tooth-brushes, she had learned, were almost unknown in the neighborhood, nearly every one of more than seventeen years wearing "store-teeth." It was a matter of much speculation to her that these people, who thought it so essential to keep their houses, especially their front porches, immaculately scrubbed, should never feel an equal necessity as to their own persons.
The doctor came to the door and told Sammy he was ready. "I wouldn't do it to go such a muddy night like what this is," he ruefully declared to Miss Margaret, "if I didn't feel it was serious; Jake Getz wouldn't spend any hirin' a doctor, without it was some serious. I'm sorry I got to go."
"Good-night, Sammy," said Miss Margaret. "Give Tillie my love; and if she is not able to come to school to-morrow, I shall go to see her."
"NOVELS AIN'T MORAL, DOC!"
Tillie still lay on the kitchen settee, her father sitting at her side, when the doctor and Sammy arrived. The other children had all been put to bed, and Mrs. Getz, seated at the kitchen table, was working on a pile of mending by the light of a small lamp.
The doctor's verdict, when he had examined his patient's tongue, felt her pulse, and taken her temperature, was not clear.
"She's got a high fever. That's 'a all the fu'ther I can go now. What it may turn to till morning, I can't tell TILL morning. Give her these powders every hour, without she's sleeping. That's the most that she needs just now."
"Yes, if she can keep them powders down," said Mr. Getz, doubtfully. "She can't keep nothin' with her."
"Well, keep on giving them, anyhow. She's a pretty sick child."
"You ain't no fears of smallpox, are you?" Mrs. Getz inquired. "Mister was afraid it might mebbe be smallpox," she said, indicating her husband by the epithet.
"Not that you say that I sayed it was!" Mr. Getz warned the doctor. "We don't want no report put out! But is they any symptoms?"
"Och, no," the doctor reassured them. "It ain't smallpox. What did you give her that she couldn't keep with her?"
"I fed some boiled milk to her."
"Did she drink tea?" he inquired, looking profound.
"We don't drink no store tea," Mrs. Getz answered him. "We drink peppermint tea fur supper, still. Tillie she didn't drink none this evening. Some says store tea's bad fur the nerves. I ain't got no nerves," she went on placidly. "Leastways, I ain't never felt none, so fur. Mister he likes the peppermint."
"And it comes cheaper," said Mister.
"Mebbe you've been leavin' Tillie work too much in the hot sun out in the fields with you?" the doctor shot a keen glance at the father; for Jake Getz was known to all Canaan Township as a man that got more work out of his wife and children than any other farmer in the district.
"After school, some," Mr. Getz replied. "But not fur long at a time, fur it gets late a'ready till she gets home. Anyhow, it's healthy fur her workin' in the fields. I guess," he speculated, "it was her settin' up in bed readin' last night done it. I don't know right how long it went that she was readin' before I seen the light, but it was near morning a'ready, and she'd burned near a whole candle out."
"And mebbe you punished her?" the doctor inquired, holding his hand to Tillie's temples.
"Well," nodded Mr. Getz, "I guess she won't be doin' somepin like that soon again. I think, still, I mebbe used the strap too hard, her bein' a girl that way. But a body's got to learn 'em when they're young, you know. And here it was a NOVEL-book! She borrowed the loan of it off of Elviny Dinkleberger! I chucked it in the fire! I don't uphold to novel-readin'!"
"Well, now," argued the doctor, settling back in his chair, crossing his legs, and thrusting his thumbs into the arm-holes of his vest, "some chance times I read in such a 'Home Companion' paper, and here this winter I read a piece in nine chapters. I make no doubt that was a novel. Leastways, I guess you'd call it a novel. And that piece," he said impressively, "wouldn't hurt nobody! It learns you. That piece," he insisted, "was got up by a moral person."
"Then I guess it wasn't no novel, Doc," Mr. Getz firmly maintained. "Anybody knows novels ain't moral. Anyhow, I ain't havin' none in my house. If I see any, they get burnt up."
"It's a pity you burnt it up, Jake. I like to come by somepin like that, still, to pass the time when there ain't much doin'. How did Elviny Dinkleberger come by such a novel?"
"I don't know. If I see her pop, I 'll tell him he better put a stop to such behaviors."
Tillie stirred restlessly on her pillow.
"What was the subjeck of that there novel, Tillie?" the doctor asked.
"Its subjeck was 'Iwanhoe,'" Mr. Getz answered. "Yes, I chucked it right in the stove."
"'Iwanhoe'!" exclaimed the doctor. "Why, Elviny must of borrowed the loan of that off of Teacher—I seen Teacher have it."
Tillie turned pleading eyes upon his face, but he did not see her.
"Do you mean to say," demanded Mr. Getz, "that Teacher lends NOVELS to the scholars!"
"Och!" said the doctor, suddenly catching the frantic appeal of Tillie's eyes, and answering it with ready invention, "what am I talkin' about! It was Elviny lent it to Aunty Em's little Rebecca at the HOtel, and Teacher was tellin' Rebecca she mustn't read it, but give it back right aways to Elviny."
"Well!" said Mr. Getz, "a teacher that would lend novels to the scholars wouldn't stay long at William Penn if MY wote could put her out! And there 's them on the Board that thinks just like what I think!"
"To be sure!" the doctor soothed him. "TO be sure! Yes," he romanced, "Rebecca she lent that book off of Elviny Dinkleberger, and Teacher she tole Rebecca to give it back."
"I'll speak somepin to Elviny's pop, first time I see him, how Elviny's lendin' a novel to the scholars!" affirmed Mr. Getz.
"You needn't trouble," said the doctor, coolly. "Elviny's pop he GIVE Elviny that there book last Christmas. I don't know what he'll think, Jake, at your burnin' it up."
Tillie was gazing at the doctor, now, half in bewilderment, half in passionate gratitude.
"If Tillie did get smallpox," Mrs. Getz here broke in, "would she mebbe have to be took to the pest-house?"
Tillie started, and her feverish eyes sought in the face of the doctor to know what dreadful place a "pest-house" might be.
"Whether she'd have to be took to the pest-house?" the doctor inquiringly repeated. "Yes, if she took the smallpox. But she ain't takin' it. You needn't worry."
"Doctors don't know near as much now as what they used to, still," Mr. Getz affirmed. "They didn't HAVE to have no such pest-houses when I was a boy. Leastways, they didn't have 'em. And they didn't never ketch such diseases like 'pendycitis and grip and them."
"Do you mean to say, Jake Getz, that you pass it as your opinion us doctors don't know more now than what they used to know thirty years ago, when you was a boy?"
"Of course they don't," was the dogmatic rejoinder. "Nor nobody knows as much now as they did in ancient times a'ready. I mean back in Bible times."
"Do you mean to say," hotly argued the doctor, "that they had automobiles in them days?"
"To be sure I do! Automobiles and all the other lost sciences!"
"Well," said the doctor, restraining his scorn with a mighty effort, "I'd like to see you prove it oncet!"
"I can prove it right out of the Bible! Do you want better proof than that, Doc? The Bible says in so many words, 'There's nothing new under the sun.' There! You can't come over that there, can you? You don't consider into them things enough, Doc. You ain't a religious man, that 's the trouble!"
"I got religion a plenty, but I don't hold to no SICH dumm thoughts!"
"Did you get your religion at Bethel rewiwal?" Mrs. Getz quickly asked, glancing up from the little stocking she was darning, to look with some interest at the doctor. "I wanted to go over oncet before the rewiwal's done. But now Tillie's sick, mebbe I won't get to go fur all. When they have rewiwals at Bethel they always make so! And," she added, resuming her darning, "I like to see 'em jump that way. My, but they jump, now, when they get happy! But I didn't get to go this year yet."
"Well, and don't you get affected too?" the doctor asked, "and go out to the mourners' bench?"
"If I do? No, I go just to see 'em jump," she monotonously repeated. "I wasn't never conwerted. Mister he's a hard Evangelical, you know."
"And what does he think of your unconwerted state?" the doctor jocularly inquired.
"What he thinks? There's nothing to think," was the stolid answer.
"Up there to Bethel rewiwal," said Mr. Getz, "they don't stay conwerted. Till rewiwal's over, they're off church again."
"It made awful funny down there this two weeks back," repeated Mrs. Getz. "They jumped so. Now there's the Lutherans, they don't make nothin' when they conwert themselves. They don't jump nor nothin'. I don't like their meetin's. It's onhandy Tillie got sick fur me just now. I did want to go oncet. Here 's all this mendin' she could have did, too. She 's handier at sewin' than what I am, still. I always had so much other work, I never come at sewin', and I 'm some dopplig at it."
"Yes?—yes," said the doctor, rising to go. "Well, Tillie, good-by, and don't set up nights any more readin' novels," he laughed.
"She ain't likely to," said her father. "My childern don't generally do somepin like that again after I once ketch 'em at it. Ain't so, Tillie? Well, then, Doc, you think she ain't serious?"
"I said I can't tell till I've saw her again a'ready."
"How long will it go till you come again?"
"Well," the doctor considered, "it looks some fur fallin' weather—ain't? If it rains and the roads are muddy till morning, so 's I can't drive fast, I won't mebbe be here till ten o'clock."
"Oh, doctor," whispered Tillie, in a tone of distress, "can't I go to school? Can't I? I'll be well enough, won't I? It's Friday to-morrow, and I—I want to go!" she sobbed. "I want to go to Miss Margaret!"
"No, you can't go to school to-morrow, Tillie," her father said, "even if you're some better; I'm keepin' you home to lay still one day anyhow."
"But I don't want to stay home!" the child exclaimed, casting off the shawl with which her father had covered her and throwing out her arms. "I want to go to school! I want to, pop!" she sobbed, almost screaming. "I want to go to Miss Margaret! I will, I will!"
"Tillie—Tillie!" her father soothed her in that unwonted tone of gentleness that sounded so strange to her. His face had turned pale at her outcries, delirious they seemed to him, coming from his usually meek and submissive child. "There now," he said, drawing the cover over her again; "now lay still and be a good girl, ain't you will?"
"Will you leave me go to school to-morrow?" she pleaded piteously. "DARE I go to school to-morrow?"
"No, you dassent, Tillie. But if you're a good girl, mebbe I 'll leave Sammy ast Teacher to come to see you after school."
"Oh, pop!" breathed the child ecstatically, as in supreme contentment she sank back again on her pillow. "I wonder will she come? Do you think she will come to see me, mebbe?"
"To be sure will she."
"Now think," said the doctor, "how much she sets store by Teacher! And a lot of 'em's the same way—girls AND boys."
"I didn't know she was so much fur Teacher," said Mr. Getz. "She never spoke nothin'."
"She never spoke nothin' to me about it neither," said Mrs. Getz.
"Well, I 'll give you all good-by, then," said the doctor; and he went away.
On his slow journey home through the mud he mused on the inevitable clash which he foresaw must some day come between the warm-hearted teacher (whom little Tillie so loved, and who so injudiciously lent her "novel-books") and the stern and influential school director, Jacob Getz.
"There MY chanct comes in," thought the doctor; "there's where I mebbe put in my jaw and pop the question—just when Jake Getz is makin' her trouble and she's gettin' chased off her job. I passed my word I'd stand by her, and, by gum, I 'll do it! When she's out of a job—that's the time she 'll be dead easy! Ain't? She's the most allurin' female I seen since my wife up't and died fur me!"
JAKE GETZ IN A QUANDARY
Tillie's illness, though severe while it lasted, proved to be a matter of only a few days' confinement to bed; and fortunately for her, it was while she was still too weak and ill to be called to account for her misdeed that her father discovered her deception as to the owner of "Ivanhoe." At least he found out, in talking with Elviny Dinkleberger and her father at the Lancaster market, that the girl was innocent of ever having owned or even seen the book, and that, consequently, she had of course never lent it either to Rebecca Wackernagel at the hotel or to Tillie.
Despite his rigorous dealings with his family (which, being the outcome of the Pennsylvania Dutch faith in the Divine right of the head of the house, were entirely conscientious), Jacob Getz was strongly and deeply attached to his wife and children; and his alarm at Tillie's illness, coming directly upon his severe punishment of her, had softened him sufficiently to temper his wrath at finding that she had told him what was not true.
What her object could have been in shielding the real owner of the book he could not guess. His suspicions did not turn upon the teacher, because, in the first place, he would have seen no reason why Tillie should wish to shield her, and, in the second, it was inconceivable that a teacher at William Penn should set out so to pervert the young whom trusting parents placed under her care. There never had been a novel-reading teacher at William Penn. The Board would as soon have elected an opium-eater.
WHERE HAD TILLIE OBTAINED THAT BOOK? And why had she put the blame on Elviny, who was her little friend? The Doc, evidently, was in league with Tillie! What could it mean? Jake Getz was not used to dealing with complications and mysteries. He pondered the case heavily.
When he went home from market, he did not tell Tillie of his discovery, for the doctor had ordered that she be kept quiet.
Not until a week later, when she was well enough to be out of bed, did he venture to tell her he had caught her telling a falsehood.
He could not know that the white face of terror which she turned to him was fear for Miss Margaret and not, for once, apprehension of the strap.
"I ain't whippin' you this time," he gruffly said, "if you tell me the truth whose that there book was."
Tillie did not speak. She was resting in the wooden rocking-chair by the kitchen window, a pillow at her head and a shawl over her knees. Her stepmother was busy at the table with her Saturday baking; Sammy was giving the porch its Saturday cleaning, and the other children, too little to work, were playing outdoors; even the baby, bundled up in its cart, was out on the grass-plot.
"Do you hear me, Tillie? Whose book was that there?"
Tillie's head hung low and her very lips were white. She did not answer.
"You 're goin' to act stubborn to ME!" her father incredulously exclaimed, and the woman at the table turned and stared in dull amazement at this unheard-of defiance of the head of the family. "Tillie!" he grasped her roughly by the arm and shook her. "Answer to me!"
Tillie's chest rose and fell tumultuously. Bat she kept her eyes downcast and her lips closed.
"Fur why don't you want to tell, then?"
"Can't! If you wasn't sick I 'd soon learn you if you can't! Now you might as well tell me right aways, fur I'll make you tell me SOME time!"
Tillie's lips quivered and the tears rolled slowly over her white cheeks.
"Fur why did you say it was Elviny?"
"She was the only person I thought to say."
"But fur why didn't you say the person it WAS? Answer to me!" he commanded.
Tillie curved her arm over her face and sobbed. She was still too weak from her fever to bear the strain of this unequal contest of wills.
"Well," concluded her father, his anger baffled and impotent before the child's weakness, "I won't bother you with it no more NOW. But you just wait till you 're well oncet! We'll see then if you'll tell me what I ast you or no!"
"Here's the Doc," announced Mrs. Getz, as the sound of wheels was heard outside the gate.
"Well," her husband said indignantly as he rose and went to the door, "I just wonder what he's got to say fur hisself, lyin' to me like what he done!"
"Hello, Jake!" was the doctor's breezy greeting as he walked into the kitchen, followed by a brood of curious little Getzes, to whom the doctor's daily visits were an exciting episode. "Howdy-do, missus," he briskly addressed the mother of the brood, pushing his hat to the back of his head in lieu of raising it. "And how's the patient?" he inquired with a suddenly professional air and tone. "Some better, heh? HEH? Been cryin'! What fur?" he demanded, turning to Mr. Getz. "Say, Jake, you ain't been badgerin' this kid again fur somepin? She'll be havin' a RElapse if you don't leave her be!"
"It's YOU I'm wantin' to badger, Doc Weaver!" retorted Mr. Getz. "What fur did you lie to me about that there piece entitled 'Iwanhoe'?"
"You and your 'Iwanhoe' be blowed! Are you tormentin' this here kid about THAT yet? A body'd think you'd want to change that subjec', Jake Getz!"
"Not till I find from you, Doc, whose that there novel-book was, and why you tole me it was Elviny Dinkleberger's!"
"That's easy tole," responded the doctor. "That there book belonged to—"
"No, Doc, no, no!" came a pleading cry from Tillie. "Don't tell, Doc, please don't tell!"
"Never you mind, Tillie, THAT'S all right. Look here, Jake Getz!" The doctor turned his sharp little eyes upon the face of the father grown dark with anger at his child's undutiful interference. "You're got this here little girl worked up to the werge of a RElapse! I tole you she must be kep' quiet and not worked up still!"
"All right. I'm leavin' HER alone—till she's well oncet! You just answer fur YOURself and tell why you lied to me!"
"Well, Jake, it was this here way. That there book belonged to ME and Tillie lent it off of me. That's how! Ain't Tillie?"
Mr. Getz stared in stupefied wonder, while Mrs. Getz, too, looked on with a dull interest, as she leaned her back against the sink and dried her hands upon her apron.
As for Tillie, a great throb of relief thrilled through her as she heard the doctor utter this Napoleonic lie—only to be followed the next instant by an overwhelming sense of her own wickedness in thus conniving with fraud. Abysses of iniquity seemed to yawn at her feet, and she gazed with horror into their black depths. How could she ever again hold up her head.
But—Miss Margaret, at least, was safe from the School Board's wrath and indignation, and how unimportant, compared with that, was her own soul's salvation!
"Why didn't Tillie say it was yourn?" Mr. Getz presently found voice to ask.
"I tole her if she left it get put out I am addicted to novel readin'," said the doctor glibly, and with evident relish, "it might spoil my practice some. And Tillie she's that kind-hearted she was sorry far me!"
"And so you put her up to say it was Elviny's! You put her up to tell lies to her pop!"
"Well, I never thought you 'd foller it up any, Jake, and try to get ELVINY into trouble."
"Doc, I always knowed you was a blasPHEmer and that you didn't have no religion. But I thought you had anyhow morals. And I didn't think, now, you was a coward that way, to get behind a child and lie out of your own evil deeds!"
"I'm that much a coward and a blasPHEmer, Jake, that I 'm goin' to add the cost of that there book of mine where you burnt up, to your doctor's bill, unlest you pass me your promise you 'll drop this here subjec' and not bother Tillie with it no more."
The doctor had driven his victim into a corner. To yield a point in family discipline or to pay the price of the property he had destroyed—one of the two he must do. It was a most untoward predicament for Jacob Getz.
"You had no right to lend that there Book to Tillie, Doc, and I ain't payin' you a cent fur it!" he maintained.
"I jus' mean, Jake, I 'll make out my bill easy or stiff accordin' to the way you pass your promise."
"If my word was no more better 'n yours, Doe, my passin' my promise wouldn't help much!"
"That's all right, Jake. I don't set up to be religious and moral. I ain't sayed my prayers since I am old enough a'ready to know how likely I was, still, to kneel on a tack!"
"It's no wonder you was put off of church!" was the biting retort.
"Hold up there, Jake. I wasn't put off. I WENT off. I took myself off of church before the brethren had a chanct to PUT me off."
"Sammy!" Mr. Getz suddenly and sharply admonished his little son, who was sharpening his slate-pencil on the window-sill with a table-knife, "you stop right aways sharpenin' that pencil! You dassent sharpen your slate-pencils, do you hear? It wastes 'em so!"
Sammy hastily laid down the knife and thrust the pencil into his pocket.
Mr. Getz turned again to the doctor and inquired irritably, "What is it to YOU if I teach my own child to mind me or not, I'd like to know?"
"Because she's been bothered into a sickness with this here thing a'ready, and it 's time it stopped now!"
"It was you started it, leavin' her lend the book off of you!"
"That's why I feel fur sparin' her some more trouble, seein' I was the instrument in the hands of Providence fur gettin' her into all this here mess. See?"
"I can't be sure when TO know if you're lyin' or not," said Mr. Getz helplessly.
"Mebbe you can't, Jake. Sometimes I'm swangfid if I'm sure, still, myself. But there's one thing you KIN be cocksure of—and that's a big doctor-bill unlest you do what I sayed."
"Now that I know who she lent the book off of there ain't nothin' to bother her about," sullenly granted Mr. Getz. "And as fur punishment—she's had punishment a-plenty, I guess, in her bein' so sick."
"All right," the doctor said magnanimously. "There's one thing I 'll give you, Jake: you're a man of your word, if you ARE a Dutch hog!"
"A—WHATEVER?" Mr. Getz angrily demanded.
"And I don't see," the doctor complacently continued, rising and pulling his hat down to his eyebrows, preparatory to leaving, "where Tillie gets her fibbin' from. Certainly not from her pop."
"I don't mind her ever tellin' me no lie before."
"Och, Jake, you drive your children to lie to you, the way you bring 'em up to be afraid of you. They GOT to lie, now and again, to a feller like you! Well, well," he soothingly added as he saw the black look in the father's face at the airing of such views in the presence of his children, "never mind, Jake, it 's all in the day's work!"
He turned for a parting glance at Tillie. "She 's better. She 'll be well till a day or two, now, and back to school—IF she's kep' quiet, and her mind ain't bothered any. Now, GOOD-by to yous."
"THE LAST DAY OF PUMP-EYE"
For a long time after her unhappy experiences with "Ivanhoe" Tillie did not again venture to transgress against her father's prohibition of novels. But her fear of the family strap, although great, did not equal the keenness of her mental hunger, and was not sufficient, therefore, to put a permanent check upon her secret midnight reading, though it did lead her to take every precaution against detection. Miss Margaret continued to lend her books and magazines from time to time, and in spite of the child's reluctance to risk involving the teacher in trouble with the School Board through her father, she accepted them. And so during all this winter, through her love for books and her passionate devotion to her teacher, the little girl reveled in feasts of fancy and emotion and this term at school was the first season of real happiness her young life had ever known.
Once on her return from school the weight of a heavy volume had proved too great a strain on her worn and thin undergarment during the long walk home; the skirt had torn away from the band, and as she entered the kitchen, her stepmother discovered the book. Tillie pleaded with her not to tell her father, and perhaps she might have succeeded in gaining a promise of secrecy had it not happened that just at the critical moment her father walked into the kitchen.
Of course, then the book was handed over to him, and Tillie with it.
"Did you lend this off the Doc again?" her father sternly demanded, the fated book in one hand and Tillie's shoulder grasped in the other.
Tillie hated to utter the lie. She hoped she had modified her wickedness a bit by answering with a nod of her head.
"What's he mean, throwin' away so much money on books?" Mr. Getz took time in his anger to wonder. He read the title, "'Last Days of Pump-eye.' Well!" he exclaimed, "this here's the last HOUR of this here 'Pump-eye'! In the stove she goes! I don't owe the Doc no doctor's bill NOW, and I'd like to see him make me pay him fur these here novels he leaves you lend off of him!"
"Please, please, pop!" Tillie gasped, "don't burn it. Give it back to—him! I won't read it—I won't bring home no more books of—hisn! Only, please, pop, don't burn it—please!"
For answer, he drew her with him as he strode to the fireplace. "I'm burnin' every book you bring home, do you hear?" he exclaimed; but before he could make good his words, the kitchen door was suddenly opened, and Sammy's head was poked in, with the announcement, "The Doc's buggy's comin' up the road!" The door banged shut again, but instantly Tillie wrenched her shoulder free from her father's hand, flew out of doors and dashed across the "yard" to the front gate. Her father's voice followed her, calling to her from the porch to "come right aways back here!" Unheeding, she frantically waved to the doctor in his approaching buggy. Sammy, with a bevy of small brothers and sisters, to whom, no less than to their parents, the passing of a "team" was an event not to be missed, were all crowded close to the fence.
"Some one sick again?" inquired the doctor as he drew up at Tillie's side.
"No, Doc—but," Tillie could hardly get her breath to speak, "pop's goin' to burn up 'Last Days of Pompeii'; it's Miss Margaret's, and he thinks it's yourn; come in and take it, Doc—PLEASE—and give it back to Miss Margaret, won't you?"
"Sure!" The doctor was out of his buggy at her side in an instant.
"Oh!" breathed Tillie, "here's pop comin' with the book!"
"See me fix him!" chuckled the doctor. "He's so dumm he'll b'lee' most anything. If I have much more dealin's with your pop, Tillie, I'll be ketchin' on to how them novels is got up myself. And then mebbe I'll LET doctorin', and go to novel-writin'!"
The doctor laughed with relish of his own joke, as Mr. Getz, grim with anger, stalked up to the buggy.
"Look-ahere!" His voice was menacing as he held out the open book for Tillie's inspection, and the child turned cold as she read on the fly-leaf,
"From A. C. L.
"You sayed the Doc give it to you! Did you lend that other 'n' off of Teacher too? Answer to me! I'll have her chased off of William Penn! I'll bring it up at next Board meetin'!"
"Hold your whiskers, Jake, or they'll blow off! You're talkin' through your hat! Don't be so dumm! Teacher she gev me that there book because she passed me her opinion she don't stand by novel-readin'. She was goin' to throw out that there book and I says I'd take it if she didn't want it. So then I left Tillie borrow the loan of it."
"So that's how you come by it, is it?" Mr. Getz eyed the doctor with suspicion. "How did you come by that there 'Iwanhoe'?"
"That there I bought at the second-hand book-store in there at Lancaster one time. I ain't just so much fur books, but now and again I like to buy one too, when I see 'em cheap."
"Well, here!" Mr. Getz tossed the book into tie buggy. "Take your old 'Pump-eye.' And clear out. If I can't make you stop tryin' to spoil my child fur me, I can anyways learn her what she'll get oncet, if she don't mind!"
Again his hand grasped Tillie's shoulder as he turned her about to take her into the house.
"You better watch out, Jake Getz, or you 'll have another doctor's bill to pay!" the doctor warningly called after him. "That girl of yourn ain't strong enough to stand your rough handlin', and you'll find it out some day—to your regret! You'd better go round back and let off your feelin's choppin' wood fur missus, stead of hittin' that little girl, you big dopple!"
Mr. Getz stalked on without deigning to reply, thrusting Tillie ahead of him. The doctor jumped into his buggy and drove off.
His warning, however, was not wholly lost upon the father. Tillie's recent illness had awakened remorse for the severe punishment he had given her on the eve of it; and it had also touched his purse; and so, though she did not escape punishment for this second and, therefore, aggravated offense, it was meted out in stinted measure. And indeed, in her relief and thankfulness at again saving Miss Margaret, the child scarcely felt the few light blows which, in order that parental authority be maintained, her father forced himself to inflict upon her.
In spite of these mishaps, however, Tillie continued to devour all the books she could lay hold of and to run perilous risks for the sake of the delight she found in them.
Miss Margaret stood to her for an image of every heroine of whom she read in prose or verse, and for the realization of all the romantic day-dreams in which, as an escape from the joyless and sordid life of her home, she was learning to live and move and have her being.
Therefore it came to her as a heavy blow indeed when, just after the Christmas holidays, her father announced to her on the first morning of the reopening of school, "You best make good use of your time from now on, Tillie, fur next spring I'm takin' you out of school."
Tillie's face turned white, and her heart thumped in her breast so that she could not speak.
"You're comin' twelve year old," her father continued, "and you're enough educated, now, to do you. Me and mom needs you at home."
It never occurred to Tillie to question or discuss a decision of her father's. When he spoke it was a finality and one might as well rebel at the falling of the snow or rain. Tillie's woe was utterly hopeless.
Her dreary, drooping aspect in the next few days was noticed by Miss Margaret.
"Pop's takin' me out of school next spring," she heart-brokenly said when questioned. "And when I can't see you every day, Miss Margaret, I won't feel for nothin' no more. And I thought to get more educated than what I am yet. I thought to go to school till I was anyways fourteen."
So keenly did Miss Margaret feel the outrage and wrong of Tillie's arrested education, when her father could well afford to keep her in school until she was grown, if he would; so stirred was her warm Southern blood at the thought of the fate to which poor Tillie seemed doomed—the fate of a household drudge with not a moment's leisure from sunrise to night for a thought above the grubbing existence of a domestic beast of burden (thus it all looked to this woman from Kentucky), that she determined, cost what it might, to go herself to appeal to Mr. Getz.
"He will have me 'chased off of William Penn,'" she ruefully told herself. "And the loss just now of my munificent salary of thirty-five dollars a month would be inconvenient. 'The Doc' said he would 'stand by' me. But that might be more inconvenient still!" she thought, with a little shudder. "I suppose this is an impolitic step for me to take. But policy 'be blowed,' as the doctor would say! What are we in this world for but to help one another? I MUST try to help little Tillie—bless her!"
So the following Monday afternoon after school, found Miss Margaret, in a not very complacent or confident frame of mind, walking with Tillie and her younger brother and sister out over the snow-covered road to the Getz farm to face the redoubtable head of the family.
MISS MARGARET'S ERRAND
It was half-past four o'clock when they reached the farm-house, and they found the weary, dreary mother of the family cleaning fish at the kitchen sink, one baby pulling at her skirts, another sprawling on the floor at her feet.
Miss Margaret inquired whether she might see Mr. Getz.
"If you kin? Yes, I guess," Mrs. Getz dully responded. "Sammy, you go to the barn and tell pop Teacher's here and wants to speak somepin to him. Mister's out back," she explained to Miss Margaret, "choppin' wood."
Sammy departed, and Miss Margaret sat down in the chair which Tillie brought to her. Mrs. Getz went on with her work at the sink, while Tillie set to work at once on a crock of potatoes waiting to be pared.
"You are getting supper very early, aren't you?' Miss Margaret asked, with a friendly attempt to make conversation.
"No, we're some late. And I don't get it ready yet, I just start it. We're getting strangers fur supper."
"Yes. Some of Mister's folks from East Bethel."
"And are they strangers to you?"
Mrs. Getz paused in her scraping of the fish to consider the question.
"If they're strangers to us? Och, no. We knowed them this long time a'ready. Us we're well acquainted. But to be sure they don't live with us, so we say strangers is comin'. You don't talk like us; ain't?"
"I do think now (you must excuse me sayin' so) but you do talk awful funny," Mrs. Getz smiled feebly.
"I suppose I do," Miss Margaret sympathetically replied.
Mr. Getz now came into the room, and Miss Margaret rose to greet him.
"I'm much obliged to meet you," he said awkwardly as he shook hands with her.
He glanced at the clock on the mantel, then turned to speak to Tillie.
"Are yous home long a'ready?" he inquired.
"Not so very long," Tillie answered with an apprehensive glance at the clock.
"You're some late," he said, with a threatening little nod as he drew up a chair in front of the teacher.