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   Chapter 3 WHAT'S HURTIN' YOU, TILLIE

Tillie: A Mennonite Maid By Helen Reimensnyder Martin Characters: 13855

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


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?"

"No-sir."

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?"

"No-sir."

"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.

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