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   Chapter 16 THE WACKERNAGELS CONWERSE

Tillie: A Mennonite Maid By Helen Reimensnyder Martin Characters: 14960

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The next day, being the Sabbath, brought to Tillie two of the keenest temptations she had ever known. In the first place, she did not want to obey her father and go home after dinner to take care of the children. All in a day the hotel had become to her the one haven where she would be, outside of which the sun did not shine.

True, by going home she might hope to escape the objectionable Sunday evening sitting-up with Absalom; for in spite of the note she had sent him, telling him of her father's wish that he must not come to see her at the hotel, she was unhappily sure that he would appear as usual. Indeed, with his characteristic dogged persistency, he was pretty certain to follow her, whithersoever she went. And even if he did not, it would be easier to endure the slow torture of his endless visit under this roof, which sheltered also that other presence, than to lose one hour away from its wonderful and mysterious charm.

"Now, look here, Tillie," said Aunty Em, at the breakfast-table, "you worked hard this week, and this after you're restin'-leastways, unless you WANT to go home and take care of all them litter of childern. If you don't want to go, you just stay-and I'll take the blame! I'll say I needed you."

"Let Jake Getz come 'round HERE tryin' to bully you, Tillie," exclaimed Mr. Wackernagel, "and it won't take me a week to tell him what I think of HIM! I don't owe HIM nothin'!"

"No," agreed Jake Getz's sister, "we don't live off of him!"

"And I don't care who fetches him neither!" added Mr. Wackernagel-which expression of contempt was one of the most scathing known to the tongue of a Pennsylvania Dutchman.

"What are you goin' to do, Tillie?" Amanda asked. "Are you goin' or stayin'?"

Tillie wavered a moment between duty and inclination; between the habit of servility to her father and the magic power that held her in its fascinating spell here under her uncle's roof.

"I'm staying," she faltered.

"Good fur you, Tillie!" laughed her uncle. "You're gettin' learnt here to take your own head a little fur things. Well, I'd like to get you spoilt good fur your pop-that's what I'd like to do!"

"We darsent go too fur," warned Aunty Em, "or he won't leave her stay with us at all."

"Now there's you, Abe," remarked the doctor, dryly; "from the time your childern could walk and talk a'ready all you had to say was 'Go'-and they stayed. Ain't?"

Mr. Wackernagel joined in the loud laughter of his wife and daughters.

Tillie realized that the teacher, as he sipped his coffee, was listening to the dialogue with astonishment and curiosity, and she hungered to know all that was passing through his mind.

Her second temptation came to her upon hearing Fairchilds, as they rose from the breakfast-table, suggest a walk in the woods with Amanda and Rebecca. "And won't Miss Tillie go too?" he inquired.

Her aunt answered for her. "Och, she wouldn't have dare, her bein' a member, you know. It would be breakin' the Sabbath. And anyways, even if it wasn't Sunday, us New Mennonites don't take walks or do anything just fur pleasure when they ain't nothin' useful in it. If Tillie went, I'd have to report her to the meetin', even if it did go ag'in' me to do it."

"And then what would happen?" Mr. Fairchilds inquired curiously.

"She'd be set back."

"'Set back'?"

"She wouldn't have dare to greet the sisters with a kiss, and she couldn't speak with me or eat with me or any of the brothers and sisters till she gave herself up ag'in and obeyed to the rules."

"This is very interesting," commented Fairchilds, his contemplative gaze moving from the face of Mrs. Wackernagel to Tillie. "But," he questioned, "Mrs. Wackernagel, why are your daughters allowed to do what you think wrong and would not do?"

"Well," began Aunty Em, entering with relish into the discussion, for she was strong in theology, "we don't hold to forcin' our childern or interferin' with the free work of the Holy Spirit in bringin' souls to the truth. We don't do like them fashionable churches of the world where teaches their childern to say their prayers and makes 'em read the Bible and go to Sunday-school. We don't uphold to Sunday-schools. You can't read nothin' in the Scripture about Sunday-schools. We hold everybody must come by their free will, and learnt only of the Holy Spirit, into the light of the One True Way."

Fairchilds gravely thanked her for her explanation and pursued the subject no further.

When Tillie presently saw him start out with her cousins, an unregenerate longing filled her soul to stay away from meeting and go with them, to spend this holy Sabbath day in worshiping, not her God, but this most god-like being who had come like the opening up of heaven into her simple, uneventful life. In her struggle with her conscience to crush such sinful desires, Tillie felt that now, for the first time, she understood how Jacob of old had wrestled with the Angel.

Her spiritual struggle was not ended by her going dutifully to meeting with her aunt. During all the long services of the morning she fought with her wandering attention to keep it upon the sacred words that were spoken and sung. But her thoughts would not be controlled. Straying like a wicked imp into forbidden paths, her fancy followed the envied ones into the soft, cool shadows of the autumn woods and along the banks of the beautiful Conestoga, and mingling with the gentle murmuring of the leaves and the rippling of the water, she heard that resonant voice, so unlike any voice she had ever heard before, and that little abrupt laugh with its odd falsetto note, which haunted her like a strain of music; and she saw, in the sunlight of the lovely October morning, against a background of gold and brown leaves and silver water, the finely chiseled face, the thoughtful, pale forehead, the kind eyes, the capable white hands, of this most wonderful young man.

Tillie well understood that could the brethren and sisters know in what a worldly frame of mind she sat in the house of God this day, undoubtedly they would present her case for "discipline," and even, perhaps, "set her back." But all the while that she tried to fight back the enemy of her soul, who thus subtly beset her with temptation to sin, she felt the utter uselessness of her struggle with herself. For even when she did succeed in forcing her attention upon some of the hymns, it was in whimsical and persistent terms of the teacher that she considered them. How was it possible, she wondered, for him, or any unconverted soul, to hear, without being moved to "give himself up," such lines as these:

"He washed them all to make them clean,

But Judas still was full of sin.

May none of us, like Judas, sell

Our Lord for gold, and go to hell!"

And these:

"O man, remember, thou must die;

The sentence is for you and I.

Where shall we be, or will we go,

When we must leave this world below?"

In the same moment that Tillie was wondering how a "Truth-Seeker" would feel under these searching words, she felt herself condemned by them for her wandering attention.

The young girl's feelings toward the stranger at this present stage of their evolution were not, like those of Amanda and Rebecca, the mere instinctive feminine craving for masculine admiration. She did not think of herself in relation to him at all. A great hunger possessed her to know him-all his thoughts, his emotions, the depths and

the heights of him; she did not long, or even wish, that he might know and admire HER.

The three-mile drive home from church seemed to Tillie, sitting in the high, old-fashioned buggy at her aunt's side, an endless journey. Never had old Dolly traveled so deliberately or with more frequent dead stops in the road to meditate upon her long-past youth. Mrs. Wackernagel's ineffectual slaps of the reins upon the back of the decrepit animal inspired in Tillie an inhuman longing to seize the whip and lash the feeble beast into a swift pace. The girl felt appalled at her own feelings, so novel and inexplicable they seemed to her. Whether there was more of ecstasy or torture in them, she hardly knew.

Immediately after dinner the teacher went out and did not turn up again until evening, when he retired immediately to the seclusion of his own room.

The mystification of the family at this unaccountably unsocial behavior, their curiosity as to where he had been, their suspense as to what he did when alone so long in his bedroom, reached a tension that was painful.

Promptly at half-past six, Absalom, clad in his Sunday suit, appeared at the hotel, to perform his weekly stint of sitting-up.

As Rebecca always occupied the parlor on Sunday evening with her gentleman friend, there was only left to Absalom and Tillie to sit either in the kitchen or with the assembled family in the sitting-room. Tillie preferred the latter. Of course she knew that such respite as the presence of the family gave her was only temporary, for in friendly consideration of what were supposed to be her feelings in the matter, they would all retire early. Absalom also knowing this, accepted the brief inconvenience of their presence without any marked restiveness.

"Say, Absalom," inquired the doctor, as the young man took up his post on the settee beside Tillie, sitting as close to her as he could without pushing her off, "how did your pop pass his opinion about the new teacher after the Board meeting Saturday, heh?"

The doctor was lounging in his own special chair by the table, his fat legs crossed and his thumbs thrust into his vest arms. Amanda idly rocked back and forth in a large luridly painted rocking-chair by the window, and Mrs. Wackernagel sat by the table before an open Bible in which she was not too much absorbed to join occasionally in the general conversation.

"He sayed he was afraid he was some tony," answered Absalom. "And," he added, a reflection in his tone of his father's suspicious attitude on Saturday night toward Fairchilds, "pop sayed HE couldn't make out what was his conwictions. He couldn't even tell right was he a Bible Christian or no."

"He certainly does, now, have pecooliar views," agreed the doctor. "I was talkin' to him this after-"

"You WAS!" exclaimed Amanda, a note of chagrin in her voice. "Well, I'd like to know where at? Where had he took himself to?"

"Up to the woods there by the old mill. I come on him there at five o'clock-layin' readin' and musin'-when I was takin' a short cut home through the woods comin' from Adam Oberholzer's."

"Well I never!" cried Amanda. "And was he out there all by hisself the whole afternoon?" she asked incredulously.

"So much as I know. AIN'T he, now, a queer feller not to want a girl along when one was so handy?" teased the doctor.

"Well," retorted Amanda, "I think he's hard up-to be spendin' a whole afternoon READIN'!"

"Oh, Doc!" Tillie leaned forward and whispered, "he's up in his room and perhaps he can hear us through the register!"

"I wisht he KIN," declared Amanda, "if it would learn him how dumm us folks thinks a feller where spends a whole Sunday afternoon by hisself READIN'!"

"Why, yes," put in Mrs. Wackernagel; "what would a body be wantin' to waste time like that fur?-when he could of spent his nice afternoon settin' there on the porch with us all, conwersin'."

"And he's at it ag'in this evenin', up there in his room," the doctor informed them. "I went up to give him my lamp, and I'm swanged if he ain't got a many books and such pamp'lets in his room! As many as ten, I guess! I tole him: I says, 'It does, now, beat all the way you take to them books and pamp'lets and things!'"

"It's a pity of him!" said motherly Mrs. Wackernagel.

"And I says to him," added the doctor, "I says, 'You ain't much fur sociability, are you?' I says."

"Well, I did think, too, Amanda," sympathized her mother, "he'd set up with you mebbe to-night, seein' Rebecca and Tillie's each got their gent'man comp'ny-even if he didn't mean it fur really, but only to pass the time."

"Och, he needn't think I'm dyin' to set up with HIM! There's a plenty others would be glad to set up with me, if I was one of them that was fur keepin' comp'ny with just ANYbody! But I did think when I heard he was goin' to stop here that mebbe he'd be a JOLLY feller that way. Well," Amanda concluded scathingly, "I'm goin' to tell Lizzie Hershey she ain't missin' much!"

"What's them pecooliar views of hisn you was goin' to speak to us, Doc?" said Absalom.

"Och, yes, I was goin' to tell you them. Well, here this after we got to talkin' about the subjeck of prayer, and I ast him his opinion. And if I understood right what he meant, why, prayin' is no different to him than musin'. Leastways, that's the thought I got out of his words."

"Musin'," repeated Absalom. "What's musin'?"

"Yes, what's that ag'in?" asked Mrs. Wackernagel, alert with curiosity, theological discussions being always of deep interest to her.

"Musin' is settin' by yourself and thinkin' of your learnin'," explained the doctor. "I've took notice, this long time back, educated persons they like to set by theirselves, still, and muse."

"And do you say," demanded Absalom, indignantly, "that Teacher he says it's the same to him as prayin'-this here musin'?"

"So much as I know, that's what he sayed."

"Well," declared Absalom, "that there ain't in the Bible! He'd better watch out! If he ain't a Bible Christian, pop and Jake Getz and the other directors'll soon put him off William Penn!"

"Och, Absalom, go sass your gran'mom!" was the doctor's elegant retort. "What's ailin' YOU, anyways, that you want to be so spunky about Teacher? I guess you're mebbe thinkin' he'll cut you out with Tillie, ain't?"

"I'd like to see him try it oncet!" growled Absalom.

Tillie grew cold with fear that the teacher might hear them; but she knew there was no use in protesting.

"Are you goin' to keep on at William Penn all winter, Absalom?" Mrs. Wackernagel asked.

"Just long enough to see if he kin learn 'rithmetic to me. Ezra Herr, he was too dumm to learn me."

"Mebbe," said the doctor, astutely, "you was too dumm to GET learnt!"

"I AM wonderful dumm in 'rithmetic," Absalom acknowledged shamelessly. "But pop says this here teacher is smart and kin mebbe learn me. I've not saw him yet myself."

Much as Tillie disliked being alone with her suitor, she was rather relieved this evening when the family, en masse, significantly took its departure to the second floor; for she hoped that with no one but Absalom to deal with, she could induce him to lower his voice so their talk would not be audible to the teacher in the room above.

Had she been able but faintly to guess what was to ensue on her being left alone with him, she would have fled up-stairs with the rest of the family and left Absalom to keep company with the chairs.

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