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   Chapter 18 TILLIE REVEALS HERSELF

Tillie: A Mennonite Maid By Helen Reimensnyder Martin Characters: 13175

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


In the next few days, Tillie tried in vain to summon courage to appeal to the teacher for assistance in her winter's study. Day after day she resolved to speak to him, and as often postponed it, unable to conquer her shyness. Meantime, however, under the stimulus of his constant presence, she applied herself in every spare moment to the school-books used by her two cousins, and in this unaided work she succeeded, as usual, in making headway.

Fairchilds's attention was arrested by the frequent picture of the little Mennonite maiden conning school-books by lamp-light.

One evening he happened to be alone with her for a few minutes in the sitting-room. It was Hallowe'en, and he was waiting for Amanda to come down from her room, where she was arraying herself for conquest at a party in the village, to which he had been invited to escort her.

"Studying all alone?" he inquired sociably, coming to the table where Tillie sat, and looking down upon her.

"Yes," said Tillie, raising her eyes for an instant.

"May I see!"

He bent to look at her book, pressing it open with his palm, and the movement brought his hand in contact with hers. Tillie felt for an instant as if she were going to swoon, so strangely delicious was the shock.

"'Hiawatha,'" he said, all unconscious of the tempest in the little soul apparently so close to him, yet in reality so immeasurably far away. "Do you enjoy it?" he inquired curiously.

"Oh, yes"; then quickly she added, "I am parsing it."

"Oh!" There was a faint disappointment in his tone.

"But," she confessed, "I read it all through the first day I began to parse it, and-and I wish I was parsing something else, because I keep reading this instead of parsing it, and-"

"You enjoy the story and the poetry?" he questioned.

"But a body mustn't read just for pleasure," she said timidly; "but for instruction; and this 'Hiawatha' is a temptation to me."

"What makes you think you ought not to read 'just for pleasure'?"

"That would be a vanity. And we Mennonites are loosed from the things of the world."

"Do you never do anything just for the pleasure of it?"

"When pleasure and duty go hand in hand, then pleasure is not displeasing to God. But Christ, you know, did not go about seeking pleasure. And we try to follow him in all things."

"But, child, has not God made the world beautiful for our pleasure? Has he not given us appetites and passions for our pleasure?-minds and hearts and bodies constructed for pleasure?"

"Has he made anything for pleasure apart from usefulness?" Tillie asked earnestly, suddenly forgetting her shyness.

"But when a thing gives pleasure it is serving the highest possible use," he insisted. "It is blasphemous to close your nature to the pleasures God has created for you. Blasphemous!"

"Those thoughts have come to me still," said Tillie. "But I know they were sent to me by the Enemy."

"'The Enemy'?"

"The Enemy of our souls."

"Oh!" he nodded; then abruptly added, "Now do you know, little girl, I wouldn't let HIM bother me at this stage of the game, if I were you! He's a back number, really!" He checked himself, remembering how dangerous such heresies were in New Canaan. "Don't you find it dull working alone?" he asked hastily, "and rather uphill?"

"It is often very hard."

"Often? Then you have been doing it for some time?"

"Yes," Tillie answered hesitatingly. No one except the doctor shared her secret with Miss Margaret. Self-concealment had come to be the habit of her life-her instinct for self-preservation. And yet, the teacher's evident interest, his presence so close to her, brought all her soul to her lips. She had a feeling that if she could overcome her shyness, she would be able to speak to him as unrestrainedly, as truly, as she talked in her letters to Miss Margaret.

"Do you have no help at all?" he pursued.

Could she trust him with the secret of Miss Margaret's letters? The habit of secretiveness was too strong upon her. "There is no one here to help me-unless YOU would sometimes," she timidly answered.

"I am at your service always. Nothing could give me greater pleasure."

"Thank you." Her face flushed with delight.

"You have, of course, been a pupil at William Penn?" he asked.

"Yes, but father took me out of school when I was twelve. Ever since then I've been trying to educate myself, but-" she lifted troubled eyes to his face, "no one here knows it but the doctor. No one must know it."

"Trust me," he nodded. "But why must they not know it?"

"Father would stop it if he found it out."

"Why?"

"He wouldn't leave me waste the time."

"You have had courage-to have struggled against such odds."

"It has not been easy. But-it seems to me the things that are worth having are never easy to get."

Fairchilds looked at her keenly.

"'The things that are worth having'? What do you count as such things?"

"Knowledge and truth; and personal freedom to be true to one's self."

He concealed the shock of surprise he felt at her words. "What have we here?" he wondered, his pulse quickening as he looked into the shining upraised eyes of the girl and saw the tumultuous heaving of her bosom. He had been right after all, then, in feeling that she was different from the rest of them! He could see that it was under the stress of unusual emotion that she gave expression to thoughts which of necessity she must seldom or never utter to those about her.

"'Personal freedom to be true to one's self'?" he repeated. "What would it mean to you if you had it?"

"Life!" she answered. "I am only a dead machine, except when I am living out my true self."

He deliberately placed his hand on hers as it lay on the table. "You make me want to clasp hands with you. Do you realize what a big truth you have gotten hold of-and all that it involves?"

"I only know what it means to me."

"You are not free to be yourself?"

"I have never drawn a natural breath except in secret."

Tillie's face was glowing. Scarcely did she know herself in this wonderful experience of speaking freely, face to face, with one who understood.

"My own recent experiences of life," he said gravely, "have brought me, too, to realize that it is death in life not to be true to one's self. But if you wait for the FREEDOM to be so-" he shrugged his shoulders. "One always has that freedom if he will take it-at its fearful cost. To be uncompromisingly and always true to one's self simply means martyrdom in one form or another."

He, too, marveled that he should have f

ound any one in this household to whom he could speak in such a vein as this.

"I always thought," Tillie said, "that when I was enough educated to be a teacher and be independent of father, I would be free to live truly. But I see that YOU cannot. You, too, have to hide your real self. Else you could not stay here in New Canaan."

"Or anywhere else, child," he smiled. "It is only with the rare few whom one finds on one's own line of march that one can be absolutely one's self. Your secret life, Miss Tillie, is not unique."

A fascinating little brown curl had escaped from Tillie's cap and lay on her cheek, and she raised her hand to push it back where it belonged, under its snowy Mennonite covering.

"Don't!" said Fairchilds. "Let it be. It's pretty!"

Tillie stared up at him, a new wonder in her eyes.

"In that Mennonite cap, you look like-like a Madonna!" Almost unwittingly the words had leaped from his lips; he could not hold them back. And in uttering them, it came to him that in the freedom permissible to him with an unsophisticated but interesting and gifted girl like this-freedom from the conventional restraints which had always limited his intercourse with the girls of his own social world-there might be possible a friendship such as he had never known except with those of his own sex-and with them but rarely. The thought cheered him mightily; for his life in New Canaan was heavy with loneliness.

With the selfishness natural to man, he did not stop to consider what such companionship might come to mean to this inexperienced girl steeped in a life of sordid labor and unbroken monotony.

There came the rustle of Amanda's skirts on the stairs.

Fairchilds clasped Tillie's passive hand. "I feel that I have found a friend to-night."

Amanda, brilliant in a scarlet frock and pink ribbons, appeared in the doorway. The vague, almost unseeing look with which the teacher turned to her was interpreted by the vanity of this buxom damsel to be the dazzled vision of eyes half blinded by her radiance.

For a long time after they had gone away together, Tillie sat with her face bowed upon her book, happiness surging through her with every great throb of her heart.

At last she rose, picked up the lamp and carried it into the kitchen to the little mirror before which the family combed their hair. Holding the lamp high, she surveyed her features. As long as her arm would bear the weight of the uplifted lamp, she gazed at her reflected image.

When presently with trembling arm she set it on the dresser, Tillie, like Mother Eve of old, had tasted of the Tree of Knowledge. Tillie knew that she was very fair.

That evening marked another crisis in the girl's inner life. Far into the night she lay with her eyes wide open, staring into the darkness, seeing there strange new visions of her own soul, gazing into its hitherto unsounded depths and seeing there the heaven or the hell-she scarcely knew which-that possessed all her being.

"Blasphemous to close your nature to the pleasures God has created for you!" His words burned themselves into her brain. Was it to an abyss of degradation that her nature was bearing her in a swift and fatal tide-or to a holy height of blessedness? Alternately her fired imagination and awakened passion exalted her adoration of him into an almost religious joy, making her yearn to give herself to him, soul and body, as to a god; then plunged her into an agony of remorse and terror at her own idolatry and lawlessness.

A new universe was opened up to her, and all of life appeared changed. All the poetry and the stories which she had ever read held new and wonderful meanings. The beauty in Nature, which, even as a child, she had felt in a way she knew those about her could never have understood, now spoke to her in a language of infinite significance. The mystery, the wonder, the power of love were revealed to her, and her soul was athirst to drink deep at this magic fountain of living water.

"You look like a Madonna!" Oh, surely, thought Tillie, in the long hours of that wakeful night, this bliss which filled her heart WAS a temptation of the Evil One, who did not scruple to use even such as the teacher for an instrument to work her undoing! Was not his satanic hand clearly shown in these vain and wicked thoughts which crowded upon her-thoughts of how fair she would look in a red gown like Amanda's, or in a blue hat like Rebecca's, instead of in her white cap and black hood? She crushed her face in her pillow in an agony of remorse for her own faithlessness, as she felt how hideous was that black Mennonite hood and all the plain garb which hitherto had stood to her for the peace, the comfort, the happiness, of her life! With all her mind, she tried to force back such wayward, sinful thoughts, but the more she wrestled with them, the more persistently did they obtrude themselves.

On her knees she passionately prayed to be delivered from the temptation of such unfaithfulness to her Lord, even in secret thought. Yet even while in the very act of pleading for mercy, forgiveness, help, to her own unutterable horror she found herself wondering whether she would dare brave her father's wrath and ask her aunt, in the morning, to keep back from her father a portion of her week's wages that she might buy some new white caps, her old ones being of poor material and very worn.

It was a tenet of her church that "wearing-apparel was instituted by God as a necessity for the sake of propriety and also for healthful warmth, but when used for purposes of adornment it becomes the evidence of an un-Christlike spirit." Now Tillie knew that her present yearning for new caps was prompted, not by the praiseworthy and simple desire to be merely neat, but wholly by her vain longing to appear more fair in the eyes of the teacher.

Thus until the small hours of the morning did the young girl wrestle with the conflicting forces in her soul.

But the Enemy had it all his own way; for when Tillie went down-stairs next morning to help her aunt get breakfast, she knew that she intended this day to buy those new caps in spite of the inevitable penalty she would have to suffer for daring to use her own money without her father's leave.

And when she walked into the kitchen, her aunt was amazed to see the girl's fair face looking out from a halo of tender little brown curls, which, with a tortured conscience, and an apprehension of retribution at the hands of the meeting, Tillie had brushed from under her cap and arranged with artful care.

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