Amanda — a Daughter of the Mennonites/12
That September Amanda went back to her second year of teaching at Crow Hill. She went bearing a heavy heart. It was hard to concentrate her full attention on reading, spelling and arithmetic. She needed constantly to summon all her will power to keep from dreaming and holding together her tottering castles in Spain.
From the little Landis children, pupils in her school, she heard unsolicited bits of gossip about Martin--"Our Mart, he’s got a girl in Lancaster.”
“Oh, you mustn’t talk like that!” Amanda interrupted, feeling conscience stricken.
“Ach, that don’t matter,” came the frank reply; “it ain’t no secret. Pop and Mom tease him about it lots of times. He gets all dressed up still evenings and takes the trolley to Lancaster to see his girl.”
“Perhaps he goes in on business.”
“Business--you bet not! Not every week and sometimes twice a week would he go on business. He’s got a girl and I heard Mom tell Pop in Dutch that she thinks it’s that there Isabel that boarded at your house last summer once. Mom said she wished she could meet her, then she’d feel better satisfied. We don’t want just anybody to get our Mart. But I guess anybody he’d pick out would be all right, don’t you, Aman--I mean, Miss Reist?”
“Yes, I guess so--of course she would,” Amanda agreed.
One winter day Martin himself mentioned the name of Isabel to Amanda. He stopped in at the Reist farm, seeming his old friendly self. “I came in to tell you good news,” he told Amanda.
“Now what?” asked Millie, who was in the room with Mrs. Reist and Amanda.
“I’ve been appointed to a place in the bank at Lancaster.”
“Good! I’m so glad, Martin!” cried the girl with genuine interest and joy. “It’s what you wanted, isn’t it?”
“Yes. But I would never have landed it so soon if it hadn’t been for Mr. Souders, Isabel’s father. He’s influential in the city and he helped me along. Now it’s up to me to make good.”
“You’ll do that, I’m sure you will!” came the spontaneous reply.
Martin looked at the bright, friendly face of Amanda. “Why,” he thought, “how pleased she is! She’s a great little pal.” For a moment the renewed friendliness of childhood days was awakened in him.
“Say, Amanda,” he said, “we haven’t had a good tramp for ages. I’ve been so busy with school"--he flushed, thinking of the city girl to whom he had been giving so much of his time--"and--well, I’ve been at it pretty hard for a while. Now I’ll just keep on with my correspondence work but I’ll have a little more time. Shall we take a tramp Sunday afternoon?”
“If you want to,” the girl responded, her heart pounding with pleasure.
Amanda dressed her prettiest for that winter tramp. She remembered Queen Esther, who had put on royal apparel to win the favor of the king. The country girl, always making the most of her good features and coloring, was simply, yet becomingly dressed when she met Martin in the Reist sitting-room. In her brown suit, little brown hat pulled over her red hair, a brown woolly scarf thrown over her shoulders, she looked like a creature of the woodland she loved.
That walk in the afternoon sunshine which warmed slightly the cold, snowy earth, was a happy one to both. Some of the old comradeship sprang up, mushroom-like, as they climbed the rail fence and entered the woods where they had so often sought wild flowers and birds’ nests. Martin spoke frankly of his work and his ambition to advance. Amanda was a good listener, a quality always appreciated by a man. When he had told his hopes and aspirations to her he began to take interest in her affairs. Her school, funny incidents occurring there, her basket work with the children--all were talked about, until Amanda in dazed fashion brushed her hand across her eyes and wondered whether Isabel and her wiles was all an hallucination.
But the subject came round all too soon. They were speaking of the Victrola recently purchased for the Crow Hill school when Martin asked, “Have you ever heard Isabel Souders play?”
“Yes, at Millersville. She often played at recitals.”
“She’s great! Isn’t she great at a piano! She’s been good enough to invite me in there. Sometimes she plays for me. The first time she played ragtime but I told her I hate that stuff. She said she’s versatile, can please any taste. So now she entertains me with those lovely, dreamy things that almost talk to you. She’s taught me to play cards, too. I haven’t said anything about it at home, they wouldn’t understand. Mother and Father still consider cards wicked. I dare say it wouldn’t be just the thing for Mennonites to play cards, but I fail to see any harm in it.”
“No--but your mother would be hurt if she knew it.”
“She won’t know it. I wouldn’t do anything wrong, but Mother doesn’t understand about such things. The only place I play is at Isabel’s home. It’s an education to be taken into a fine city home like theirs and treated as an equal.”
“An equal! Why, Martin Landis, you are an equal! If a good, honest country boy isn’t as good as a butterfly city girl I’d like to know who is! Aren’t your people and mine as good as any others in the whole world? Even if the men do eat in their shirt sleeves and the women can’t tell an oyster fork from a salad one.” The fine face of the girl was flushed and eager as she went on, “Of course, these days young people should learn all the little niceties of correct table manners so they can eat anywhere and not be embarrassed. But I’ll never despise any middle-aged or old people just because they eat with a knife or pour coffee into a saucer or commit any other similar transgression. It’s a matter of man-made style, after all. When our grannies were young the proper way to do was to pour coffee into the saucers. Why, we have a number of little glass plates made just for the purpose of holding the cup after the coffee had been poured into the saucer. The cup-plates saved the cloth from stains of the drippings on the cup. I heard a prominent lecturer say we should not be so quick to condemn people who do not eat as we think they should. He said, apropos of eating with a knife or, according to present usage, with a fork, that it’s just a little matter of the difference between pitching it in or shoveling it in.”
Martin laughed. “There’s nothing of the snob about you, is there? I believe you see the inside of people without much looking on the exterior.”
“I hope so,” she said. “Shall we turn back now? I’m cold.”
She was cold, but it was an inward reaction from the joy of being with Martin again. His words about Isabel and his glad recounting of the hours he spent with her chilled the girl. She felt that he was becoming more deeply entangled in the web Isabel spun for him. To the country girl’s observant, analytical mind it seemed almost impossible that a girl of Isabel’s type could truly love a plain man like Martin Landis or could ever make him happy if she married him.
“It’s just one more conquest for her to boast about,” Amanda thought. “Just as the mate of the Jack-in-the-pulpit invites the insects to her honey and then catches them in a hopeless trap, so women like Isabel play with men like Martin. No wonder the root of the Jack-in-the-pulpit is bitter--it’s symbolic of the aftermath of the honeyed trap.”
Worried, unhappy though she was, Amanda’s second year of teaching was, in the opinion of the pupils, highly successful. Some of the wonder-thoughts of her heart she succeeded in imparting to them in that little rural school. As she tugged at the bell rope and sent the ding-dong pealing over the countryside with its call that brought the children from many roads and byways she felt an irresistible thrill pulsating through her. It was as if the big bell called, “Here, come here, come here! We’ll teach you knowledge from books, and that rarer thing, wisdom. We’ll teach you in this little square room the meaning of the great outside world, how to meet the surging tide of the cities and battle squarely. We’ll show you how to carry to commerce and business and professional life the honesty and wholesomeness and sincerity of the country. We’ll teach you that sixteen ounces make a pound and show you why you must never forget that, but must keep exalted and unstained the high standards of courage and right.”
Some world-old philosophical conception of the insignificance of her own joys and sorrows as compared with the magnitude of the earth and its vast solar system came to her at times.
“My life,” she thought, “seems so important to me and yet it is so little a thing to weep about if my days are not as full of joy as I want them to be. I must step out from myself, detach myself and get a proper perspective. After all, my little selfish wants and yearnings are so small a portion of the whole scheme of things.
’For all that laugh, and all that weep And all that breathe are one Slight ripple on the boundless deep That moves, and all is gone.’”
Looking back over the winter months of that second year of teaching Amanda sometimes wondered how she was able to do her work in the schoolroom acceptably. But the strain of being a stoic left its marks upon her.
“My goodness,” said Aunt Rebecca one day in February when a blizzard held her snowbound at the Reist farmhouse, “that girl must be doin’ too much with this teachin’ and basket makin’ and who knows what not! She looks pale and sharp-chinned. Ain’t you noticed?” she asked Mrs. Reist.
“I thought last week she looked pinched and I asked if she felt bad but she said she felt all right, she was just a little bit tired sometimes. I guess teachin’ forty boys and girls ain’t any too easy, Becky.”
“My goodness, no! I’d rather tend hogs all day! But why don’t you make a big crock of boneset tea and make her take a good swallow every day? There’s nothin’ like that to build abody up. She looks real bad--you don’t want her to go in consumption like that Ellie Hess over near my place.”
“Oh, mercy no! Becky, how you scare abody! I’ll fix her up some boneset tea to-day yet. I got some on the garret that Millie dried last summer.”
Amanda protested against the boneset but to please her mother she promised to swallow faithfully the doses of bitter tea. She thought whimsically as she drank it, “First time I knew that boneset tea is good for an aching heart. Boneset tea--it isn’t that I want! I’m afraid I’m losing hold of my old faith in the ultimate triumph of sincerity and truth. Seems that men, even men like Martin Landis, don’t want the old-fashioned virtues in a woman. They don’t look for womanly qualities, but prefer to be amused and entertained and flattered and appealed to through the senses. Brains and heart don’t seem to count. I wish I could be a butterfly! But I can never be like Isabel. When she is near I feel like a bump-on-a-log. My tongue is like lead while she chatters and holds the attention of Martin. She compels attention and crowds out everybody else. Oh, yea! as we youngsters used to say when things went wrong when we were little. Perhaps things will come out right some day. I’ll just keep on taking that boneset tea!”