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Tillie: A Mennonite Maid By Helen Reimensnyder Martin Characters: 18213

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

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?"

"That depends-"

"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."

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