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Tillie: A Mennonite Maid By Helen Reimensnyder Martin Characters: 22813

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

That a man holding a Harvard degree should consider so humble an educational post as that of New Canaan needs a word of explanation.

Walter Fairchilds was the protege of his uncle, the High Church bishop of a New England State, who had practically, though not legally, adopted him, upon the death of his father, when the boy was fourteen years old, his mother having died at his birth.

It was tacitly understood by Walter that his uncle was educating him for the priesthood. His life, from the time the bishop took charge of him until he was ready for college, was spent in Church boarding-schools.

A spiritually minded, thoughtful boy, of an emotional temperament which responded to every appeal of beauty, whether of form, color, sound, or ethics, Walter easily fell in with his uncle's designs for him, and rivaled him in the fervor of his devotion to the esthetic ritual of his Church.

His summer vacations were spent at Bar Harbor with the bishop's family, which consisted of his wife and two anemic daughters. They were people of limited interests, who built up barriers about their lives on all sides; social hedges which excluded all humanity but a select and very dull, uninteresting circle; intellectual walls which never admitted a stray unconventional idea; moral demarcations which nourished within them the Mammon of self-righteousness, and theological harriers which shut out the sunlight of a broad charity.

Therefore, when in the course of his career at Harvard, Walter Fairchilds discovered that intellectually he had outgrown not only the social creed of the divine right of the well-born, in which these people had educated him, but their theological creed as well, the necessity of breaking the fact to them, of wounding their affection for him, of disappointing the fond and cherished hope with which for years his uncle had spent money upon his education-the ordeal which he had to face was a fiery one.

When, in deepest sorrow, and with all the delicacy of his sensitive nature, he told the bishop of his changed mental attitude toward the problem of religion, it seemed to him that in his uncle's reception of it the spirit of the Spanish Inquisitors was revived, so mad appeared to him his horror of this heresy and his conviction that he, Walter, was a poison in the moral atmosphere, which must be exterminated at any cost.

In this interview between them, the bishop stood revealed to him in a new character, and yet Walter seemed to realize that in his deeper consciousness he had always known him for what he really was, though all the circumstances of his conventional life had conduced to hide his real self. He saw, now, how the submissiveness of his own dreamy boyhood had never called into active force his guardian's native love of domineering; his intolerance of opposition; the pride of his exacting will. But on the first provocation of circumstances, these traits stood boldly forth.

"Is it for this that I have spent my time and money upon you-to bring up an INFIDEL?" Bishop Fairchilds demanded, when he had in part recovered from the first shock of amazement the news had given him.

"I am not an infidel even if I have outgrown High Church dogmas. I have a Faith-I have a Religion; and I assure you that I never so fully realized the vital truth of my religion as I do now-now that I see things, not in the dim cathedral light, but out under the broad heavens!"

"How can you dare to question the authority of our Holy Mother, the Church, whose teachings have come down to us through all these centuries, bearing the sacred sanction of the most ancient authority?"

"Old things can rot!" Walter answered.

"And you fancy," the bishop indignantly demanded, "that I will give one dollar for your support while you are adhering to this blasphemy? That I will ever again even so much as break bread with you, until, in humble contrition, you return to your allegiance to the Church?"

Walter lifted his earnest eyes and met squarely his uncle's frowning stare. Then the boy rose.

"Nothing, then, is left for me," he said steadily, "but to leave your home, give up the course of study I had hoped to continue at Harvard, and get to work."

"You fully realize all that this step must mean?" his uncle coldly asked him. "You are absolutely penniless."

"In a matter of this kind, uncle, you must realize that such a consideration could not possibly enter in."

"You have not a penny of your own. The few thousands that your father left were long ago used up in your school-bills."

"And I am much in your debt; I know it all."

"So you choose poverty and hardship for the sake of this perversity?"

"Others have suffered harder things for principle."

Thus they parted.

And thus it was, through the suddenness and unexpectedness of the loss of his home and livelihood, that Walter Fairchilds came to apply for the position at William Penn.

"HERE, Tillie, you take and go up to Sister Jennie Hershey's and get some mush. I'm makin' fried mush fur supper," said Aunty Em, bustling into the hotel kitchen where her niece was paring potatoes, one Saturday afternoon. "Here's a quarter. Get two pound."

"Oh, Tillie," called her cousin Rebecca from the adjoining dining-room, which served also as the family sitting-room, "hurry on and you'll mebbe be in time to see the stage come in with the new teacher in. Mebbe you'll see him to speak to yet up at Hershey's."

"Lizzie Hershey's that wonderful tickled that the teacher's going to board at their place!" said Amanda, the second daughter, a girl of Tillie's age, as she stood in the kitchen doorway and watched Tillie put on her black hood over the white Mennonite cap. Stout Aunty Em also wore the Mennonite dress, which lent a certain dignity to her round face with its alert but kindly eyes; but her two daughters were still "of the world's people."

"When Lizzie she tole me about it, comin' out from Lancaster after market this morning," continued Amanda, "she was now that tickled! She sayed he's such a good-looker! Och, I wisht he was stoppin' here; ain't, Tillie? Lizzie'll think herself much, havin' a town fellah stoppin' at their place."

"If he's stoppin' at Hershey's," said Rebecca, appearing suddenly, "that ain't sayin' he has to get in with Lizzie so wonderful thick! I hope he's a JOLLY fellah."

Amanda and Rebecca were now girls of seventeen and eighteen years-buxom, rosy, absolutely unideal country lasses. Beside them, frail little Tillie seemed a creature of another clay.

"Lizzie tole me: she sayed how he come up to their market-stall in there at Lancaster this morning," Amanda related, "and tole her he'd heard Jonas Hershey's pork-stall at market was where he could mebbe find out a place he could board at in New Canaan with a private family-he'd sooner live with a private family that way than at the HOtel. Well, Lizzie she coaxed her pop right there in front of the teacher to say THEY'd take him, and Jonas Hershey he sayed HE didn't care any. So Lizzie she tole him then he could come to their place, and he sayed he'd be out this after in the four-o'clock stage."

"Well, and I wonder what her mother has to say to her and Jonas fixin' it up between 'em to take a boarder and not waitin' to ast HER!" Aunty Em said. "I guess mebbe Sister Jennie's spited!"

The appellation of "sister" indicated no other relation than that of the Mennonite church membership, Mrs. Jonas Hershey being also a New Mennonite.

"Now don't think you have to run all the way there and back, Tillie," was her aunt's parting injunction. "I don't time you like what your pop does! Well, I guess not! I take notice you're always out of breath when you come back from an urrand. It's early yet-you dare stop awhile and talk to Lizzie."

Tillie gave her aunt a look of grateful affection as she left the house. Often when she longed to thank her for her many little acts of kindness, the words would not come. It was the habit of her life to repress every emotion of her mind, whether of bitterness or pleasure, and an unconquerable shyness seized upon her in any least attempt to reveal herself to those who were good to her.

It was four o'clock on a beautiful October afternoon as she walked up the village street, and while she enjoyed, through all her sensitive maiden soul, the sweet sunshine and soft autumn coloring, her thought dwelt with a pleasant expectancy on her almost inevitable meeting with "the Teacher," if he did indeed arrive in the stage now due at New Canaan.

Unlike her cousins Amanda and Rebecca, and their neighbor Lizzie Hershey, Tillie's eagerness to meet the young man was not born of a feminine hunger for romance. Life as yet had not revealed those emotions to her except as she had known them in her love for Miss Margaret-which love was indeed full of a sacred sentiment. It was only because the teacher meant an aid to the realization of her ambition to become "educated" that she was interested in his coming.

It was but a few minutes' walk to the home of Jonas Hershey, the country pork butcher. As Tillie turned in at the gate, she heard, with a leap of her heart, the distant rumble of the approaching stagecoach.

Jonas Hershey's home was probably the cleanest, neatest-looking red brick house in all the county. The board-walk from the gate to the door fairly glistened from the effects of soap and water. The flower-beds, almost painfully neat and free from weeds, were laid out on a strictly mathematical plan. A border of whitewashed clam-shells, laid side by side with military precision, set off the brilliant reds and yellows of the flowers, and a glance at them was like gazing into the face of the midday sun. Tillie shaded her dazzled eyes as she walked across the garden to the side door which opened into the kitchen. It stood open and she stepped in without ceremony. For a moment she could see nothing but red and yellow flowers and whitewashed clam-shells. But as her vision cleared, she perceived her neighbor, Lizzie Hershey, a well-built, healthy-looking country lass of eighteen years, cutting bread at a table, and her mother, a large fat woman wearing the Mennonite dress, standing before a huge kitchen range, stirring "ponhaus" in a caldron.

The immaculate neatness of the large kitchen gave evidence, as did garden, board-walk, and front porch, of that morbid passion for "cleaning up" characteristic of the Dutch housewife.

Jonas Hershey did a very large and lucrative business, and the work of his establishment was heavy. But he hired no "help" and his wife and daughter worked early and late to aid him in earning the dollars which he hoarded.

"Sister Jennie!" Tillie accosted Mrs. Hershey with the New Mennonite formal greeting, "I wish you the grace and peace of the Lord."

"The same to you, sister," Mrs. Hershey replied, bending to receive Tillie's kiss as the girl came up to her at the stove-the Mennonite interpretation of the command, "Salute the brethren with a holy kiss."

"Well, Lizzie," was Tillie's only greeting to the girl at the table. Lizzie was not a member of meeting and the rules forbade the members to kiss those who were still in the world.

"Well, Tillie," answered Lizzie, not looking up from the bread she was cutting.

Tillie instantly perceived a lack of cordiality. Something was wrong. Lizzie's face was sulle

n and her mother's countenance looked grim and determined. Tillie wondered whether their evident ill-humor were in any way connected with herself, or whether her Aunty Em's surmise were correct, and Sister Jennie was really "spited."

"I've come to get two pound of mush," she said, remembering her errand.

"It's all," Mrs. Hershey returned. "We solt every cake at market, and no more's made yet. It was all a'ready till market was only half over."

"Aunty Em'll be disappointed. She thought she'd make fried mush for supper," said Tillie.

"Have you strangers?" inquired Mrs. Hershey.

"No, we haven't anybody for supper, unless some come on the stage this after. We had four for dinner."

"Were they such agents, or what?" asked Lizzie.

Tillie turned to her. "Whether they were agents? No, they were just pleasure-seekers. They were out for a drive and stopped off to eat."

At this instant the rattling old stage-coach drew up at the gate.

The mother and daughter, paying no heed whatever to the sound, went on with their work, Mrs. Hershey looking a shade more grimly determined as she stirred her ponhaus and Lizzie more sulky.

Tillie had just time to wonder whether she had better slip out before the stranger came in, when a knock on the open kitchen door checked her.

Neither mother nor daughter glanced up in answer to the knock. Mrs. Hershey resolutely kept her eyes on her caldron as she turned her big spoon about in it, and Lizzie, with sullen, averted face, industriously cut her loaf.

A second knock, followed by the appearance of a good-looking, well-dressed young man on the threshold, met with the same reception. Tillie, in the background, and hidden by the stove, looked on wonderingly.

The young man glanced, in evident mystification, at the woman by the stove and at the girl at the table, and a third time rapped loudly.

"Good afternoon!" he said pleasantly, an inquiring note in his voice.

Mrs. Hershey and Lizzie went on with their work as though they had not heard him.

He took a step into the room, removing his hat. "You were expecting me this afternoon, weren't you?" he asked.

"This is the place," Lizzie remarked at last.

"You were looking for me?" he repeated.

Mrs. Hershey suddenly turned upon Lizzie. "Why don't you speak?" she inquired half-tauntingly. "You spoke BEFORE."

Tillie realized that Sister Jennie must be referring to Lizzie's readiness at market that morning to "speak," in making her agreement with the young man for board.

"You spoke this morning," the mother repeated. "Why can't you speak now?"

"Och, why don't you speak yourself?" retorted Lizzie. "It ain't fur ME to speak!"

The stranger appeared to recognize that he was the subject of a domestic unpleasantness.

"You find it inconvenient to take me to board?" he hesitatingly inquired of Mrs. Hershey. "I shouldn't think of wishing to intrude. There is a hotel in the place, I suppose?"

"Yes. There IS a HOtel in New Canaan."

"I can get board there, no doubt?"

"Well," Mrs. Hershey replied argumentatively, "that's a public house and this ain't. We never made no practice of takin' boarders. To be sure, Jonas he always was FUR boarders. But I AIN'T fur!"

"Oh, yes," gravely nodded the young man. "Yes. I see."

He picked up the dress-suit case which he had set on the sill. "Where is the hotel, may I ask?"

"Just up the road a piece. You can see the sign out," said Mrs. Hershey, while Lizzie banged the bread-box shut with an energy forcibly expressive of her feelings.

"Thank you," responded the gentleman, a pair of keen, bright eyes sweeping Lizzie's gloomy face.

He bowed, put his hat on his head and stepped out of the house.

There was a back door at the other side of the kitchen. Not stopping for the ceremony of leave-taking, Tillie slipped out of it to hurry home before the stranger should reach the hotel.

Her heart beat fast as she hurried across fields by a short-cut, and there was a sparkle of excitement in her eyes. Her ears were tingling with sounds to which they were unaccustomed, and which thrilled them exquisitely-the speech, accent, and tones of one who belonged to that world unknown to her except through books-out of which Miss Margaret had come and to which this new teacher, she at once recognized, belonged. Undoubtedly he was what was called, by magazine-writers and novel-writers, a "gentleman." And it was suddenly revealed to Tillie that in real life the phenomenon thus named was even more interesting than in literature. The clean cut of the young man's thin face, his pale forehead, the fineness of the white hand he had lifted to his hat, his modulated voice and speech, all these things had, in her few minutes' observation of him, impressed themselves instantly and deeply upon the girl's fresh imagination.

Out of breath from her hurried walk, she reached the back door of the hotel several minutes before the teacher's arrival. She had just time to report to her aunt that Sister Jennie's mush was "all," and to reply in the affirmative to the eager questions of Amanda and Rebecca as to whether she had seen the teacher, when the sound of the knocker on the front door arrested their further catechism.

"The stage didn't leave out whoever it is-it drove right apast," said Aunty Em. "You go, Tillie, and see oncet who is it."

Tillie was sure that she had not been seen by the evicted applicant for board, as she had been hidden behind the stove. This impression was confirmed when she now opened the door to him, for there was no recognition in his eyes as he lifted his hat. It was the first time in Tillie's life that a man had taken off his hat to her, and it almost palsied her tongue as she tried to ask him to come in.

In reply to his inquiry as to whether he could get board here, she led him into the darkened parlor at the right of a long hall. Groping her way across the floor to the window she drew up the blind.

"Just sit down," she said timidly. "I'll call Aunty Em."

"Thank you," he bowed with a little air of ceremony that for an instant held her spellbound. She stood staring at him-only recalled to herself and to a sense of shame for her rudeness by the sudden entrance of her aunt.

"How d' do?" said Mrs. Wackernagel in her brisk, businesslike tone. "D'you want supper?"

"I am the applicant for the New Canaan school. I want to get board for the winter here, if I can-and in case I'm elected."

"Well, I say! Tillie! D'you hear that? Why us we all heard you was goin' to Jonas Hershey's."

"They decided it wasn't convenient to take me and sent me here."

"Now think! If that wasn't like Sister Jennie yet! All right!" she announced conclusively. "We can accommodate you to satisfaction, I guess."

"Have you any other boarders?" the young man inquired.

"No reg'lar boarders-except, to be sure, the Doc; and he's lived with us it's comin' fifteen years, I think, or how long, till November a'ready. It's just our own fam'ly here and my niece where helps with the work, and the Doc. We have a many to meals though, just passing through that way, you know. We don't often have more 'n one reg'lar boarder at oncet, so we just make 'em at home still, like as if they was one of us. Now YOU," she hospitably concluded, "we'll lay in our best bed. We don't lay 'em in the best bed unless they're some clean-lookin'."

Tillie noticed as her aunt talked that while the young man listened with evident interest, his eyes moved about the room, taking in every detail of it. To Tillie's mind, this hotel parlor was so "pleasing to the eye" as to constitute one of those Temptations of the Enemy against which her New Mennonite faith prescribed most rigid discipline. She wondered whether the stranger did not think it very handsome.

The arrangement of the room was evidently, like Jonas Hershey's flower-beds, the work of a mathematical genius. The chairs all stood with their stiff backs squarely against the wall, the same number facing each other from the four sides of the apartment. Photographs in narrow oval frames, six or eight, formed another oval, all equidistant from the largest, which occupied the dead center, not only of this group, but of the wall from which it depended. The books on the square oak table, which stood in the exact middle of the floor, were arranged in cubical piles in the same rigid order. Tillie saw the new teacher's glance sweep their titles: "Touching Incidents, and Remarkable Answers to Prayer"; "From Tannery to White House"; "Gems of Religious Thought," by Talmage; "History of the Galveston Horror; Illustrated"; "Platform Echoes, or Living Truths for Heart and Head," by John B. Gough.

"Lemme see-your name's Fairchilds, ain't?" the landlady abruptly asked.

"Yes," bowed the young man.

"Will you, now, take it all right if I call you by your Christian name? Us Mennonites daresent call folks Mr. and Mrs. because us we don't favor titles. What's your first name now?"

Mr. Fairchilds considered the question with the appearance of trying to remember. "You'd better call me Pestalozzi," he answered, with a look and tone of solemnity.

"Pesky Louzy!" Mrs. Waekernagel exclaimed. "Well, now think! That's a name where ain't familiar 'round here. Is it after some of your folks?"

"It was a name I think I bore in a previous incarnation as a teacher of youth," Fairchilds gravely replied.

Mrs. Waekernagel looked blank. "Tillie!" she appealed to her niece, who had shyly stepped half behind her, "do you know right what he means?"

Tillie dumbly shook her head.

"Pesky Louzy!" Mrs. Waekernagel experimented with the unfamiliar name. "Don't it, now, beat all! It'll take me awhile till I'm used to that a'ready. Mebbe I'll just call you Teacher; ain't?"

She looked at him inquiringly, expecting an answer. "Ain't!" she repeated in her vigorous, whole-souled way.

"Eh-ain't WHAT?" Fairchilds asked, puzzled.

"Och, I just mean, SAY NOT? Can't you mebbe talk English wery good? We had such a foreigners at this HOtel a'ready. We had oncet one, he was from Phil'delphy and he didn't know what we meant right when we sayed, 'The butter's all any more.' He'd ast like you, 'All what?' Yes, he was that dumm! Och, well," she added consolingly, "people can't help fur their dispositions, that way!"

"And what must I call you?" the young man inquired.

"My name's Wackernagel."

"Miss or Mrs.?"

"Well, I guess not MISS anyhow! I'm the mother of four!"

"Oh, excuse me!"

"Oh, that's all right!" responded Mrs. Wackernagel, amiably. "Well, I must go make supper now. You just make yourself at home that way."

"May I go to my room?"

"Now?" asked Mrs. Wackernagel, incredulously. "Before night?"

"To unpack my dress-suit case," the young man explained. "My trunk will be brought out to-morrow on the stage."

"All right. If you want. But we ain't used to goin' up-stairs in the daytime. Tillie, you take his satchel and show him up. This is my niece, Tillie Getz."

Again Mr. Fairchilds bowed to the girl as his eyes rested on the fair face looking out from her white cap. Tillie bent her head in response, then stooped to pick up the suit case. But he interposed and took it from her hands-and the touch of chivalry in the act went to her head like wine.

She led the way up-stairs to the close, musty, best spare bedroom.

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