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Tillie: A Mennonite Maid By Helen Reimensnyder Martin Characters: 9147

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

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,

"Margaret Lind.

"From A. C. L.

Christmas, 18-"

"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.

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