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Tillie: A Mennonite Maid By Helen Reimensnyder Martin Characters: 16343

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

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."

"Are you?"

"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?"

"N-not exactly."

"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.

"It's my fault," Miss Margaret hastened to say, "I made the children wait to bring me out here."

"Well," conceded Mr. Getz, "then we'll leave it go this time."

Miss Margaret now bent her mind to the difficult task of persuading this stubborn Pennsylvania Dutchman to accept her views as to what was for the highest and best good of his daughter. Eloquently she pointed out to him that Tillie being a child of unusual ability, it would be much better for her to have an education than to be forced to spend her days in farm-house drudgery.

But her point of view, being entirely novel, did not at all appeal to him.

"I never thought to leave her go to school after she was twelve. That's long enough fur a girl; a female don't need much book-knowledge. It don't help her none to keep house fur her mister."

"But she could become a teacher and then she could earn money," Miss Margaret argued, knowing the force of this point with Mr. Getz.

"But look at all them years she'd have to spend learnin' herself to be intelligent enough fur to be a teacher, when she might be helpin' me and mom."

"But she could help you by paying board here when she becomes the New Canaan teacher."

"That's so too," granted Mr. Getz; and Margaret grew faintly hopeful.

"But," he added, after a moment's heavy weighing of the matter, "it would take too long to get her enough educated fur to be a teacher, and I'm one of them," he maintained, "that holds a child is born to help the parent, and not contrarywise-that the parent must do everything fur the child that way."

"If you love your children, you must wish for their highest good," she suggested, "and not trample on their best interests."

"But they have the right to work for their parents," he insisted. "You needn't plague me to leave Tillie stay in school, Teacher. I ain't leavin' her!"

"Do you think you have a right to bring children into the world only to crush everything in them that is worth while?" Margaret dared to say to him, her face flushed, her eyes bright with the intensity of her feelings.

"That's all blamed foolishness!" Jake Getz affirmed.

"Do you think that your daughter, when she is grown and realizes all that she has lost, will 'rise up and call you blessed'?" she persisted.

"Do I think? Well, what I think is that it's a good bit more particular that till she's growed she's been learnt to work and serve them that raised her. And what I think is that a person ain't fit to be a teacher of the young that sides along with the childern ag'in' their parents."

Miss Margaret felt that it was time she took her leave.

"Look-ahere oncet, Teacher!" Mr. Getz suddenly said, fixing on her a suspicious and searching look, "do you uphold to novel-readin'?"

Miss Margaret hesitated perceptibly. She must shield Tillie even more than herself. "What a question to ask of the teacher at William Penn!" she gravely answered.

"I know it ain't such a wery polite question," returned Mr. Getz, half apologetically. "But the way you side along with childern ag'in' their parents suspicions me that the Doc was lyin' when he sayed them novel-books was hisn. Now was they hisn or was they yourn?"

Miss Margaret rose with a look and air of injury. "'Mr. Getz, no one ever before asked me such questions. Indeed," she said, in a tone of virtuous primness, "I can't answer such questions."

"All the same," sullenly asserted Mr. Getz, "I wouldn't put it a-past you after the way you passed your opinion to me this after!"

"I must be going," returned Miss Margaret with dignity.

Mrs. Getz came forward from the stove with a look and manner of apology for her husband's rudeness to the visitor.

"What's your hurry? Can't you stay and eat along? We're not anyways tired of you."

"Thank you. But they will be waiting for me at the hotel," said Miss Margaret gently.

Tillie, a bit frightened, also hovered near, her wistful little face pale. Miss Margaret drew her to her and held her at her side, as she looked up into the face of Mr. Getz.

"I am very, very sorry, Mr. Getz, that my visit has proved so fruitless. You don't realize what a mistake you are making."

"That ain't the way a teacher had ought to talk before a scholar to its parent!" indignantly retorted Mr. Getz. "And I'm pretty near sure it was all the time YOU where lent them Books to Tillie-corruptin' the young! I can tell you right now, I ain't votin' fur you at next election! And the way I wote is the way two other members always wotes still-and so you'll lose your job at William Penn! That's what you get fur tryin' to interfere between a parent and a scholar! I hope it'll learn you!"

"And when is the next election?" imperturbably asked Miss Margaret.

"Next month on the twenty-fifth of February. Then you'll see oncet!"

"According to the terms of my agreement with the Board I hold my position until the first of April unless the Board can show reasons why it should be taken from me. What reasons can you show?"

"That you side along with the-"

"That I try to persuade you not to take your child out of school when you can well afford to keep her there. That's what you have to tell the Board."

Mr. Getz stared at her, rather baffled. The children also stared in wide-eyed curiosity, realizing with wonder that Teacher was "talkin' up to pop!" It was a novel and interesting spectacle.

"Well, anyways," continued Mr. Getz, rallying, "I'll bring it up in Board meeting that you mebbe leave the scholars borry the loan of novels off of you."

"But you can't prove it. I shall hold the Board to their contract. They can't break it."

Miss Margaret was taking very high ground, of which, in fact, she was not at all sure.

Mr. Getz gazed at her with mingled anger and fascination. Here was certainly a new species of woman! Never before had any teacher at William Penn failed to cringe to his authority as a director.

"This much I KIN say," he finally declared. "Mebbe you kin hold us to that there contract, but you won't, anyways, be elected to come back here next term! That's sure! You'll have to look out fur another place till September a'ready. And we won't give yo

u no recommend, neither, to get yourself another school with!"

Just here it was that Miss Margaret had her triumph, which she was quite human enough to thoroughly enjoy.

"You won't have a chance to reelect me, for I am going to resign at the end of the term. I am going to be married the week after school closes."

Never had Mr. Getz felt himself so foiled. Never before had any one subject in any degree to his authority so neatly eluded a reckoning at his hands. A tingling sensation ran along his arm and he had to restrain his impulse to lift it, grasp this slender creature standing so fearlessly before him, and thoroughly shake her.

"Who's the party?" asked Mrs. Getz, curiously. "It never got put out that you was promised. I ain't heard you had any steady comp'ny. To be sure, some says the Doc likes you pretty good. Is it now, mebbe, the Doc? But no," she shook her head; "Mister's sister Em at the hotel would have tole me. Is it some one where lives around here?"

"I don't mind telling you," Miss Margaret graciously answered, realizing that her reply would greatly increase Mr. Getz's sense of defeat. "It is Mr. Lansing, a nephew of the State Superintendent of schools and a professor at the Millersville Normal School."

"Well, now just look!" Mrs. Getz exclaimed wonderingly. "Such a tony party! The State Superintendent's nephew! That's even a more way-up person than what the county superintendent is! Ain't? Well, who'd 'a' thought!"

"Miss Margaret!" Tillie breathed, gazing up at her, her eyes wide and strained with distress, "if you go away and get married, won't I NEVER see you no more?"

"But, dear, I shall live so near-at the Normal School only a few miles away. You can come to see me often."

"But pop won't leave me, Miss Margaret-it costs too expensive to go wisiting, and I got to help with the work, still. O Miss Margaret!" Tillie sobbed, as Margaret sat down and held the clinging child to her, "I'll never see you no more after you go away!"

"Tillie, dear!" Margaret tried to soothe her. "I 'll come to see YOU, then, if you can't come to see me. Listen, Tillie,-I've just thought of something."

Suddenly she put the little girl from her and stood up.

"Let me take Tillie to live with me next fall at the Normal School. Won't you do that, Mr. Getz!" she urged him. "She could go to the preparatory school, and if we stay at Millersville, Dr. Lansing and I would try to have her go through the Normal School and graduate. Will you consent to it, Mr. Getz?"

"And who'd be payin' fur all this here?" Mr. Getz ironically inquired.

"Tillie could earn her own way as my little maid-helping me keep my few rooms in the Normal School building and doing my mending and darning for me. And you know after she was graduated she could earn her living as a teacher."

Margaret saw the look of feverish eagerness with which Tillie heard this proposal and awaited the outcome.

Before her husband could answer, Mrs. Getz offered a weak protest.

"I hear the girls hired in town have to set away back in the kitchen and never dare set front-always away back, still. Tillie wouldn't like that. Nobody would."

"But I shall live in a small suite of rooms at the school-a library, a bedroom, a bath-room, and a small room next to mine that can be Tillie's bedroom. We shall take our meals in the school dining-room."

"Well, that mebbe she wouldn't mind. But 'way back she wouldn't be satisfied to set. That's why the country girls don't like to hire in town, because they dassent set front with the missus. Here last market-day Sophy Haberbush she conceited she'd like oncet to hire out in town, and she ast me would I go with her after market to see a lady that advertised in the newspaper fur a girl, and I sayed no, I wouldn't mind. So I went along. But Sophy she wouldn't take the place fur all. She ast the lady could she have her country company, Sundays-he was her company fur four years now and she wouldn't like to give him up neither. She tole the lady her company goes, still, as early as eleven. But the lady sayed her house must be darkened and locked at half-past ten a'ready. She ast me was I Sophy's mother and I sayed no, I'm nothin' to her but a neighbor woman. And she tole Sophy, when they eat, still, Sophy she couldn't eat along. I guess she thought Sophy Haberbush wasn't good enough. But she's as good as any person. Her mother's name is Smith before she was married, and them Smiths was well fixed. She sayed Sophy'd have to go in and out the back way and never out the front. Why, they say some of the town people's that proud, if the front door-bell rings and the missus is standin' right there by it, she won't open that there front door but wants her hired girl to come clear from the kitchen to open it. Yes, you mightn't b'lee me, but I heerd that a'ready. And Mary Hertzog she tole me when she hired out there fur a while one winter in town, why, one day she went to the missus and she says, 'There's two ladies in the parlor and I tole 'em you was helpin' in the kitchen,' and the missus she ast her, 'What fur did you tell 'em that? Why, I'm that ashamed I don't know how to walk in the parlor!' And Mary she ast the colored gentleman that worked there, what, now, did the missus mean?-and he sayed, 'Well, Mary, you've a heap to learn about the laws of society. Don't you know you must always leave on the ladies ain't doin' nothin'?' Mary sayed that colored gentleman was so wonderful intelligent that way. He'd been a restaurant waiter there fur a while and so was throwed in with the best people, and he was, now, that tony and high-minded! Och, I wouldn't hire in town! To be sure, Mister can do what he wants. Well," she added, "it's a quarter till five-I guess I'll put the peppermint on a while. Mister's folks'll be here till five."

She moved away to the stove, and Margaret resumed her assault upon the stubborn ignorance of the father.

"Think, Mr. Getz, what a difference all this would make in Tillie's life," she urged.

"And you'd be learnin' her all them years to up and sass her pop when she was growed and earnin' her own livin'!" he objected.

"I certainly would not."

"And all them years till she graduated she'd be no use to us where owns her," he said, as though his child were an item of live stock on the farm.

"She could come home to you in the summer vacations," Margaret suggested.

"Yes, and she'd come that spoilt we couldn't get no work out of her. No, if I hire her out winters, it'll be where I kin draw her wages myself-where's my right as her parent. What does a body have childern fur? To get no use out of 'em? It ain't no good you're plaguin' me. I ain't leavin' her go. Tillie!" he commanded the child with a twirl of his thumb and a motion of his head; "go set the supper-table!"

Margaret laid her arm about Tillie's shoulder. "Well, dear," she said sorrowfully, "we must give it all up, I suppose. But don't lose heart, Tillie. I shall not go out of your life. At least we can write to each other. Now," she concluded, bending and kissing her, "I must go, but you and I shall have some talks before you stop school, and before I go away from New Canaan."

She pressed her lips to Tillie's in a long kiss, while the child clung to her in passionate devotion. Mr. Getz looked on with dull bewilderment. He knew, in a vague way, that every word the teacher spoke to the child, no less than those useless caresses, was "siding along with the scholar ag'in' the parent," and yet he could not definitely have stated just how. He was quite sure that she would not dare so to defy him did she not know that she had the whip-handle in the fact that she did not want her "job" next year, and that the Board could not, except for definite offenses, break their contract with her. It was only in view of these considerations that she played her game of "plaguing" him by championing Tillie. Jacob Getz was incapable of recognizing in the teacher's attitude toward his child an unselfish interest and love.

So, in dogged, sullen silence, he saw this extraordinary young woman take her leave and pass out of his house.

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