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   Chapter 20 TILLIE IS SET BACK

Tillie: A Mennonite Maid By Helen Reimensnyder Martin Characters: 21051

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


On Sunday morning, in spite of her aunt's protestations, Tillie went to meeting with her curls outside her cap.

"They'll set you back!" protested Mrs. Wackernagel, in great trouble of spirit.

"It would be worse to be deceitful than to be vain," Tillie answered. "If I am going to let my hair curl week-days, I won't be a coward and deceive the meeting about myself."

"But whatever made you take it into your head to act so vain, Tillie?" her bewildered aunt inquired for the hundredth time. "It can't be fur Absalom, fur you don't take to him. And, anyways, he says he wants to be led of the Spirit to give hisself up. To be sure, I hope he ain't tempted to use religion as a means of gettin' the girl he wants!"

"I know I'm doing wrong, Aunty Em," Tillie replied sorrowfully. "Maybe the meeting to-day will help me to conquer the Enemy."

She and her aunt realized during the course of the morning that the curls were creating a sensation. An explanation would certainly be demanded of Tillie before the week was out.

After the service, they did not stop long for "sociability,"-the situation was too strained,-but hurried out to their buggy as soon as they could escape.

Tillie marveled at herself as, on the way home, she found how small was her concern about the disapproval of the meeting, and even about her sin itself, before the fact that the teacher thought her curls adorable.

Aunty Em, too, marveled as she perceived the girl's strange indifference to the inevitable public disgrace at the hands of the brethren and sisters. Whatever was the matter with Tillie?

At the dinner-table, to spare Tillie's evident embarrassment (perhaps because of the teacher's presence), Mrs. Wackernagel diverted the curiosity of the family as to how the meeting had received the curls.

"What did yous do all while we was to meeting?" she asked of her two daughters.

"Me and Amanda and Teacher walked to Buckarts Station," Rebecca answered.

"Did yous, now?"

"Up the pike a piece was all the fu'ther I felt fur goin'," continued Eebecca, in a rather injured tone; "but Amanda she was so fur seein' oncet if that fellah with those black MUStache was at the blacksmith's shop yet, at Buckarts! I tole her she needn't be makin' up to HIM, fur he's keepin' comp'ny with Lizzie Hershey!"

"Say, mom," announced Amanda, ignoring her sister's rebuke, "I stopped in this morning to see Lizzie Hershey, and she's that spited about Teacher's comin' here instead of to their place that she never so much as ast me would I spare my hat!"

"Now look!" exclaimed Mrs. Wackernagel. "And when I said, after while, 'Now I must go,' she was that unneighborly she never ast me, 'What's your hurry?'"

"Was she that spited!" said Mrs. Wackernagel, half pityingly. "Well, it was just like Sister Jennie Hershey, if she didn't want Teacher stayin' there, to tell him right out. Some ain't as honest. Some talks to please the people."

"What fur sermont did yous have this morning?" asked Mr. Wackernagel, his mouth full of chicken.

"We had Levi Harnish. He preached good," said Mrs. Wackernagel. "Ain't he did, Tillie?"

"Yes," replied Tillie, coloring with the guilty consciousness that scarcely a word of that sermon had she heard.

"I like to hear a sermont, like hisn, that does me good to my heart," said Mrs. Wackernagel.

"Levi Harnish, he's a learnt preacher," said her husband, turning to Fairchilds. "He reads wonderful much. And he's always thinkin' so earnest about his learnin' that I've saw him walk along the street in Lancaster a'ready and a'most walk into people!" "He certainly can stand on the pulpit elegant!" agreed Mrs. Wackernagel. "Why, he can preach his whole sermont with the Bible shut, yet! And he can put out elocution that it's something turrible!"

"You are not a Mennonite, are you?" Fairchilds asked of the landlord.

"No," responded Mr. Wackernagel, with a shrug. "I bothered a whole lot at one time about religion. Now I never bother."

"We had Silas Trout to lead the singin' this morning," continued Mrs. Wackernagel. "I wisht I could sing by note, like him. I don't know notes; I just sing by random."

"Where's Doc, anyhow?" suddenly inquired Amanda, for the doctor's place at the table was vacant.

"He was fetched away. Mary Holzapple's mister come fur him!" Mr. Wackernagel explained, with a meaning nod.

"I say!" cried Mrs. Wackernagel. "So soon a'ready! And last week it was Sue Hess! Doc's always gettin' fetched! Nothin' but babies and babies!"

Tillie, whose eyes were always on the teacher, except when he chanced to glance her way, noted wonderingly the blush that suddenly covered his face and neck at this exclamation of her aunt's. In the primitive simplicity of her mind, she could see nothing embarrassing in the mere statement of any fact of natural history.

"Here comes Doc now!" cried Rebecca, at the opening of the kitchen door. "Hello, Doc!" she cried as he came into the dining-room. "What IS it?"

"Twin girls!" the doctor proudly announced, going over to the stove to warm his hands after his long drive.

"My lands!" exclaimed Amanda.

"Now what do you think!" ejaculated Mrs. Wackernagel.

"How's missus?" Rebecca inquired.

"Doin' fine! But mister he ain't feelin' so well. He wanted a boy-OR boys, as the case might be. It's gettin' some cold out," he added, rubbing his hands and holding them to the fire.

That evening, when again Fairchilds was unable to have a chat alone with Tillie, because of Absalom Puntz's unfailing appearance at the hotel, he began to think, in his chagrin, that he must have exaggerated the girl's superiority, since week after week she could endure the attentions of "that lout."

He could not know that it was for HIS sake-to keep him in his place at William Penn-that poor Tillie bore the hated caresses of Absalom.

That next week was one never to be forgotten by Tillie. It stood out, in all the years that followed, as a week of wonder-in which were revealed to her the depths and the heights of ecstatic bliss-a bliss which so filled her being that she scarcely gave a thought to the disgrace hanging over her-her suspension from meeting.

The fact that Tillie and the teacher sat together, now, every evening, called forth no surmises or suspicions from the Wackernagels, for the teacher was merely helping Tillie with some studies. The family was charged to guard the fact from Mr. Getz.

The lessons seldom lasted beyond the early bedtime of the family, for as soon as Tillie and Fairchilds found the sitting-room abandoned to their private use, the school-books were put aside. They had somewhat to say to each other.

Tillie's story of her long friendship with Miss Margaret, which she related to Fairchilds, made him better understand much about the girl that had seemed inexplicable in view of her environment; while her wonder at and sympathetic interest in his own story of how he had come to apply for the school at New Canaan both amused and touched him.

"Do you never have any doubts, Tillie, of the truth of your creed?" he asked curiously, as they sat one evening at the sitting-room table, the school-books and the lamp pushed to one end.

He had several times, in this week of intimacy, found it hard to reconcile the girl's fine intelligence and clear thought in some directions with her religious superstition. He hesitated to say a word to disturb her in her apparently unquestioning faith, though he felt she was worthy of a better creed than this impossibly narrow one of the New Mennonites. "She isn't ready yet," he had thought, "to take hold of a larger idea of religion."

"I have sometimes thought," she said earnestly, "that if the events which are related in the Bible should happen now, we would not credit them. An infant born of a virgin, a star leading three travelers, a man who raised the dead and claimed to be God-we would think the folks who believed these things were ignorant and superstitious. And because they happened so long ago, and are in the Book which we are told came from God, we believe. It is very strange! Sometimes my thoughts trouble me. I try hard not to leave such thoughts come to me."

"LET, Tillie, not 'leave.'"

"Will I ever learn not to get my 'leaves' and 'lets' mixed!" sighed Tillie, despairingly.

"Use 'let' whenever you find 'leave' on the end of your tongue, and vice versa," he advised, with a smile.

She looked at him doubtfully. "Are you joking?"

"Indeed, no! I couldn't give you a better rule."

"There's another thing I wish you would tell me, please," she said, her eyes downcast.

"Well?"

"I can't call you 'Mr.' Fairchilds, because such complimentary speech is forbidden to us New Mennonites. It would come natural to me to call you 'Teacher,' but you would think that what you call 'provincial.'"

"But you say 'Miss' Margaret."

"I could not get out of the way of it, because I had called her that so many years before I gave myself up. That makes it seem different. But you-what must I call you?"

"I don't see what's left-unless you call me 'Say'!"

"I must have something to call you," she pleaded. "Would you mind if I called you by your Christian name?"

"I should like nothing better."

He drew forward a volume of Mrs. Browning's poems which lay among his books on the table, opened it at the fly-leaf, and pointed to his name.

"'Walter'?" read Tillie. "But I thought-"

"It was Pestalozzi? That was only my little joke. My name's Walter."

On the approach of Sunday, Fairchilds questioned her one evening about Absalom.

"Will that lad be taking up your whole Sunday evening again?" he demanded.

She told him, then, why she suffered Absalom's unwelcome attentions. It was in order that she might use her influence over him to keep the teacher in his place.

"But I can't permit such a thing!" he vehemently protested. "Tillie, I am touched by your kindness and self-sacrifice! But, dear child, I trust I am man enough to hold my own here without your suffering for me! You must not do it."

"You don't know Nathaniel Puntz!" She shook her head. "Absalom will never forgive you, and, at a word from him, his father would never rest until he had got rid of you. You see, none of the directors like you-they don't understand you-they say you are 'too tony.' And then your methods of teaching-they aren't like those of the Millersville Normal teachers we've had, and therefore are unsound! I discovered last week, when I wa

s out home, that my father is very much opposed to you. They all felt just so to Miss Margaret."

"I see. Nevertheless, you shall not bear my burdens. And don't you see it's not just to poor Absalom? You can't marry him, so you ought not to encourage him."

"'If I refused to le-LET Absalom come, you would not remain a month at New Canaan," was her answer.

"But it isn't a matter of life and death to me to stay at New Canaan! I need not starve if I lose my position here. There are better places."

Tillie gazed down upon the chenille table-cover, and did not speak. She could not tell him that it did seem to HER a matter of life and death to have him stay.

"It seems to me, Tillie, you could shake off Absalom through your father's objections to his attentions. The fellow could not blame you for that."

"But don't you see I must keep him by me, in order to protect you."

"My dear little girl, that's rough on Absalom; and I'm not sure it's worthy of you."

"But you don't understand. You think Absalom will be hurt in his feelings if I refuse to marry him. But I've told him all along I won't marry him. And it isn't his feelings that are concerned. He only wants a good housekeeper."

Fairchilds's eyes rested on the girl as she sat before him in the fresh bloom of her maidenhood, and he realized what he knew she did not-that unsentimental, hard-headed, and practical as Absalom might be, if she allowed him the close intimacy of "setting-up" with her, the fellow must suffer in the end in not winning her. But the teacher thought it wise to make no further comment, as he saw, at any rate, that he could not move her in her resolution to defend him.

And there was another thing that he saw. The extraneous differences between himself and Tillie, and even the radical differences of breeding and heredity which, he had assumed from the first, made any least romance or sentiment on the part of either of them unthinkable, however much they might enjoy a good comradeship,-all these differences had strangely sunk out of sight as he had, from day to day, grown in touch with the girl's real self, and he found himself unable to think of her and himself except in that deeper sense in which her soul met his. Any other consideration of their relation seemed almost grotesque. This was his feeling-but his reason struggled with his feeling and bade him beware. Suppose that she too should come to feel that with the meeting of their spirits the difference in their conditions melted away like ice in the sunshine. Would not the result be fraught with tragedy for her? For himself, he was willing, for the sake of his present pleasure, to risk a future wrestling with his impracticable sentiments; but what must be the cost of such a struggle to a frail, sensitive girl, with no compensations whatever in any single phase of her life? Clearly, he was treading on dangerous ground. He must curb himself.

Before another Sunday came around, the ax had fallen-the brethren came to reason with Tillie, and finding her unable to say she was sincerely repentant and would amend her vain and carnal deportment, she was, in the course of the next week, "set back."

"I would be willing to put back the curls," she said to her aunt, who also reasoned with her in private; "but it would avail nothing. For my heart is still vain and carnal. 'Man looketh upon the outward appearance, but God looketh on the heart.'"

"Then, Tillie," said her aunt, her kindly face pale with distress in the resolution she had taken, "you'll have to go home and stay. You can't stay here as long as you're not holding out in your professions."

Tillie's face went white, and she gazed into her aunt's resolute countenance with anguish in her own.

"I'd not do it to send you away, Tillie, if I could otherwise help it. But look how inconwenient it would be havin' you here to help work, and me not havin' dare to talk or eat with you. I'm not obeyin' to the 'Rules' NOW in talkin' to you. But I tole the brethren I'd only speak to you long enough to reason with you some-and then, if that didn't make nothin', I'd send you home."

The Rules forbade the members to sit at table or hold any unnecessary word of communication with one who had failed to "hold out," and who had in consequence been "set back." Tillie, in her strange indifference to the disgrace of being set back, had not foreseen her inevitable dismissal from her aunt's employ. She recognized, now, with despair in her soul, that Aunty Em could not do otherwise than send her home.

"When must I go, Aunty Em?"

"As soon as you make your mind up you AIN'T goin' to repent of your carnal deportment."

"I can't repent, Aunty Em!" Tillie's voice sounded hollow to herself as she spoke.

"Then, Tillie, you're got to go to-morrow. I 'll have to get my niece from East Donegal over."

It sounded to Tillie like the crack of doom.

The doctor, who was loath to have her leave, who held her interests at heart, and who knew what she would forfeit in losing the help which the teacher was giving her daily in her studies, undertook to add his expostulations to that of the brethern and sisters.

"By gum, Tillie, slick them swanged curls BACK, if they don't suit the taste of the meeting! Are you willin' to leave go your nice education, where you're gettin', fur a couple of damned curls? I don't know what's got INto you to act so blamed stubborn about keepin' your hair strubbled 'round your face!"

"But the vanity would still be in my heart even if I did brush them back. And I don't want to be deceitful."

"Och, come now," urged the doctor, "just till you're got your certificate a'ready to teach! That wouldn't be long. Then, after that, you can be as undeceitful as you want."

But Tillie could not be brought to view the matter in this light.

She did not sit at table with the family that day, for that would have forced her aunt to stay away from the table. Mrs. Wackernagel could break bread without reproach with all her unconverted household; but not with a backslider-for the prohibition was intended as a discipline, imposed in all love, to bring the recalcitrant member back into the fold.

That afternoon, Tillie and the teacher took a walk together in the snow-covered woods.

"It all seems so extraordinary, so inexplicable!" Fairchilds repeated over and over. Like all the rest of the household, he could not be reconciled to her going. His regret was, indeed, greater than that of any of the rest, and rather surprised himself. The pallor of Tillie's face and the anguish in her eyes he attributed to the church discipline she was suffering. He never dreamed how wholly and absolutely it was for him.

"Is it any stranger," Tillie asked, her low voice full of pain, "than that your uncle should send you away because of your UNbelief?" This word, "unbelief," stood for a very definite thing in New Canaan-a lost and hopeless condition of the soul. "It seems to me, the idea is the same," said Tillie.

"Yes," acknowledged Fairchilds, "of course you are right. Intolerance, bigotry, narrowness-they are the same the world over-and stand for ignorance always."

Tillie silently considered his words. It had not occurred to her to question the perfect justice of the meeting's action.

Suddenly she saw in the path before her a half-frozen, fluttering sparrow. They both paused, and Tillie stooped, gently took it up, and folded it in her warm shawl. As she felt its throbbing little body against her hand, she thought of herself in the hand of God. She turned and spoke her thought to Fairchilds.

"Could I possibly hurt this little bird, which is so entirely at my mercy? Could I judge it, condemn and punish it, for some mistake or wrong or weakness it had committed in its little world? And could God be less kind, less merciful to me than I could be to this little bird? Could he hold my soul in the hollow of his hand and vivisect it to judge whether its errors were worthy of his divine anger? He knows how weak and ignorant I am. I will not fear him," she said, her eyes shining. "I will trust myself in his power-and believe in his love."

"The New Mennonite creed won't hold her long," thought Fairchilds.

"Our highest religious moments, Tillie," he said, "come to us, not through churches, nor even through Bibles. They are the moments when we are most receptive of the message Nature is always patiently waiting to speak to us-if we will only hear. It is she alone that can lead us to see God face to face, instead of 'through another man's dim thought of him.'"

"Yes," agreed Tillie, "I have often felt more-more RELIGIOUS," she said, after an instant's hesitation, "when I've been walking here alone in the woods, or down by the creek, or up on Chestnut Hill-than I could feel in church. In church we hear ABOUT God, as you say, through other men's dim thoughts of Him. Here, alone, we are WITH him."

They walked in silence for a space, Tillie feeling with mingled bliss and despair the fascination of this parting hour. But it did not occur to Fairchilds that her departure from the hotel meant the end of their intercourse.

"I shall come out to the farm to see you, Tillie, as often as you will let me. You know, I've no one else to talk to, about here, as I talk with you. What a pleasure it has been!"

"Oh, but father will never le-let me spend my time with you as I did at the hotel! He will be angry at my being sent home, and he will keep me constantly at work to make up for the loss it is to him. This is our last talk together!"

"I'll risk your father's wrath, Tillie. You don't suppose I'd let a small matter like that stand in the way of our friendship?"

"But father will not l-LET-me spend time with you. And if you come when he told you not to he would put you out of William Penn!"

"I'm coming, all the same, Tillie."

"Father will blame me, if you do."

"Can't you take your own part, Tillie?" he gravely asked. "No, no," he hastily added, for he did not forget the talk he had overheard about the new caps, in which Mr. Getz had threatened personal violence to his daughter. "I know you must not suffer for my sake. But you cannot mean that we are not to meet at all after this?"

"Only at chance times," faltered Tillie; "that is all."

Very simply and somewhat constrainedly they said good-by the next morning, Fairchilds to go to his work at William Penn and Tillie to drive out with her Uncle Abe to meet her father's displeasure.

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