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   Chapter 21 I'LL MARRY HIM TO-MORROW!

Tillie: A Mennonite Maid By Helen Reimensnyder Martin Characters: 21359

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Mr. Getz had plainly given Absalom to understand that he did not want him to sit up with Tillie, as he "wasn't leaving her marry." Absalom had answered that he guessed Tillie would have something to say to that when she was "eighteen a'ready." And on the first Sunday evening after her return home he had boldly presented himself at the farm.

"That's where you'll get fooled, Absalom, fur she's been raised to mind her pop!" Mr. Getz had responded. "If she disobeyed to my word, I wouldn't give her no aus styer. I guess you wouldn't marry a girl where wouldn't bring you no aus styer!"

Absalom, who was frugal, had felt rather baffled at this threat. Nevertheless, here he was again on Sunday evening at the farm to assure Tillie that HE would stand by her, and that if she was not restored to membership in the meeting, he wouldn't give himself up, either.

Mr. Getz dared not go to the length of forbidding Absalom his house, for that would have meant a family feud between all the Getzes and all the Puntzes of the county. He could only insist that Tillie "dishearten him," and that she dismiss him not later than ten o'clock. To almost any other youth in the neighborhood, such opposition would have proved effectual. But every new obstacle seemed only to increase Absalom's determination to have what he had set out to get.

To-night he produced another book, which he said he had bought at the second-hand book-store in Lancaster.

"'Cupid and Psyche,'" Tillie read the title. "Oh, Absalom, thank you. This is lovely. It's a story from Greek mythology-I've been hearing some of these stories from the teacher"-she checked herself, suddenly, at Absalom's look of jealous suspicion.

"I'm wonderful glad you ain't in there at the HOtel no more," he said. "I hadn't no fair chancet, with Teacher right there on the GROUNDS."

"Absalom," said Tillie, gravely, with a little air of dignity that did not wholly fail to impress him, "I insist on it that you never speak of the teacher in that way in connection with me. You might as well speak of my marrying the County Superintendent! He'd be just as likely to ask me!"

The county superintendent of public instruction was held in such awe that his name was scarcely mentioned in an ordinary tone of voice.

"As if there's no difference from a teacher at William Penn to the county superintendent! You ain't that dumm, Tillie!"

"The difference is that the teacher at William Penn is superior in every way to the county superintendent!"

She spoke impulsively, and she regretted her words the moment they were uttered. But Absalom only half comprehended her meaning.

"You think you ain't good enough fur him, and you think I ain't good enough fur YOU!" he grumbled. "I have never saw such a funny girl! Well," he nodded confidently, "you'll think different one of these here days!"

"You must not cherish any false hopes, Absalom," Tillie insisted in some distress.

"Well, fur why don't you want to have me?" he demanded for the hundredth time.

"Absalom,"-Tillie tried a new mode of discouragement,-"I don't want to get married because I don't want to be a farmer's wife-they have to work too hard!"

It was enough to drive away any lover in the countryside, and for a moment Absalom was staggered.

"Well!" he exclaimed, "a woman that's afraid of work ain't no wife fur me, anyways!"

Tillie's heart leaped high for an instant in the hope that now she had effectually cooled his ardor. But it sank again as she recalled the necessity of retaining at least his good-will and friendship, that she might protect the teacher.

"Now, Absalom," she feebly protested, "did you ever see me afraid of work?"

"Well, then, if you ain't afraid of workin', what makes you talk so CONTRARY?"

"I don't know. Come, let me read this nice book you've brought me," she urged, much as she might have tried to divert one of her little sisters or brothers.

"I'd ruther just set. I ain't much fur readin'. Jake Getz he says he's goin' to chase you to bed at ten-and ten comes wonderful soon Sundays. Leave us just set."

Tillie well understood that this was to endure Absalom's clownish wooing. But for the sake of the cause, she said to herself, she would conquer her repugnance and bear it.

For two weeks after Tillie's return home, she did not once have a word alone with Fairchilds. He came several times, ostensibly on errands from her aunt; but on each occasion he found her hard at work in her father's presence. At his first visit, Tillie, as he was leaving, rose from her corn-husking in the barn to go with him to the gate, but her father interfered.

"You stay where you're at!"

With burning face, she turned to her work. And Fairchilds, carefully suppressing an impulse to shake Jake Getz till his teeth rattled, walked quietly out of the gate and up the road.

Her father was more than usually stern and exacting with her in these days of her suspension from meeting, inasmuch as it involved her dismissal from the hotel and the consequent loss to him of two dollars a week.

As for Tillie, she found a faint consolation in the fact of the teacher's evident chagrin and indignation at the tyrannical rule which forbade intercourse between them.

At stated intervals, the brethren came to reason with her, but while she expressed her willingness to put her curls back, she would not acknowledge that her heart was no longer "carnal and vain," and so they found it impossible to restore her to favor.

A few weeks before Christmas, Absalom, deciding that he had imbibed all the arithmetical erudition he could hold, stopped school. On the evening that he took his books home, he gave the teacher a parting blow, which he felt sure quite avenged the outrageous defeat he had suffered at his hands on that Sunday night at the hotel.

"Me and Tillie's promised. It ain't put out yet, but I conceited I'd better tell you, so's you wouldn't be wastin' your time tryin' to make up to her."

"You and Tillie are engaged to be married?" Fairchilds incredulously asked.

"That's what! As good as, anyways. I always get somepin I want when I make up my mind oncet." And he grinned maliciously.

Fairchilds pondered the matter as, with depressed spirits, he walked home over the frozen road.

"No wonder the poor girl yielded to the pressure of such an environment," he mused. "I suppose she thinks Absalom's rule will not be so bad as her father's. But that a girl like Tillie should be pushed to the wall like that-it is horrible! And yet-if she were worthy a better fate would she not have held out?-it is too bad, it is unjust to her 'Miss Margaret' that she should give up now! I feel," he sadly told himself, "disappointed in Tillie!"

When the notable "Columbus Celebration" came off in New Canaan, in which event several schools of the township united to participate, and which was attended by the entire countryside, as if it were a funeral, Tillie hoped that here would be an opportunity for seeing and speaking with Walter Fairchilds. But in this she was bitterly disappointed.

It was not until a week later, at the township Institute, which met at New Canaan, and which was also attended by the entire population, that her deep desire was gratified.

It was during the reading of an address, before the Institute, by Miss Spooner, the teacher at East Donegal, that Fairchilds deliberately came and sat by Tillie in the back of the school-room.

Tillie's heart beat fast, and she found herself doubting the reality of his precious nearness after the long, dreary days of hungering for him.

She dared not speak to him while Miss Spooner held forth, and, indeed, she feared even to look at him, lest curious eyes read in her face what consciously she strove to conceal.

She realized his restless impatience under Miss Spooner's eloquence.

"It was a week back already, we had our Columbus Celebration," read this educator of Lancaster County, genteelly curving the little finger of each hand, as she held her address, which was esthetically tied with blue ribbon. "It was an inspiring sight to see those one hundred enthusiastic and paterotic children marching two by two, led by their equally enthusiastic and paterotic teachers! Forming a semicircle in the open air, the exercises were opened by a song, 'O my Country,' sung by clear-r-r-ringing-childish voices...."

It was the last item on the program, and by mutual and silent consent, Tillie and Fairchilds, at the first stir of the audience, slipped out of the schoolhouse together. Tillie's father was in the audience, and so was Absalom. But they had sat far forward, and Tillie hoped they had not seen her go out with the teacher.

"Let us hurry over to the woods, where we can be alone and undisturbed, and have a good talk!" proposed Fairchilds, his face showing the pleasure he felt in the meeting.

After a few minutes' hurried walking, they were able to slacken their pace and stroll leisurely through the bleak winter forest.

"Tillie, Tillie!" he said, "why won't you abandon this 'carnal' life you are leading, be restored to the approbation of the brethren, and come back to the hotel? I am very lonely without you."

Tillie could scarcely find her voice to answer, for the joy that filled her at his words-a joy so full that she felt but a very faint pang at his reference to the ban under which she suffered. She had thought his failure to speak to her at the "Celebration" had indicated indifference or forgetfulness. But now that was all forgotten; every nerve in her body quivered with happiness.

He, however, at once interpreted her silence to mean that he had wounded her. "Forgive me for speaking so lightly of what to you must be a sacred and serious matter. God knows, my own experience-which, as you say, was not unlike your own-was sufficiently serious to me. But somehow, I can't take THIS seriously-this matter of your pretty curls!"

"Sometimes I wonder whether you take any person or any thing, here, seriously," she half smiled. "You seem to me to be always mocking at us a little."

"Mocking? Not so bad as that. And never at YOU, Tillie."

"You were sneering at Miss Spooner, weren't you?"

"Not at her; at Christopher Columbus-though, up to the time of that celebration, I was always rather fond of the discoverer of America. But now let us talk of YOU, Tillie. Allow me to congratulate you!"

"What for?"

"True enough. I stand corrected. Then accept my sincere sympathy." He smiled whimsically.

Tillie lifted her eyes to his face, and their pretty look of bewilderment made him long to stoop and snatch a kiss from her lips. B

ut he resisted the temptation.

"I refer to your engagement to Absalom. That's one reason why I wanted you to come out here with me this afternoon-so that you could tell me about it-and explain to me what made you give up all your plans. What will your Miss Margaret say?"

Tillie stopped short, her cheeks reddening.

"What makes you think I am promised to Absalom?"

"The fact is, I've only his word for it."

"He told you that?"

"Certainly. Isn't it true?"

"Do YOU think so poorly of me?" Tillie asked in a low voice.

He looked at her quickly. "Tillie, I'm sorry; I ought not to have believed it for an instant!"

"I have a higher ambition in life than to settle down to take care of Absalom Puntz!" said Tillie, fire in her soft eyes, and an unwonted vibration in her gentle voice.

"My credulity was an insult to you!"

"Absalom did not mean to tell you a lie. He has made up his mind to have me, so he thinks it is all as good as settled. Sometimes I am almost afraid he will win me just by thinking he is going to."

"Send him about his business! Don't keep up this folly, dear child!"

"I would rather stand Absalom," she faltered, "than stand having you go away."

"But, Tillie," he turned almost fiercely upon her-"Tillie, I would rather see you dead at my feet than to see your soul tied to that clod of earth!"

A wild thrill of rapture shot through Tillie's heart at his words. For an instant she looked up at him, her soul shining in her eyes. "Does he-does HE-care that much what happens to me?" throbbed in her brain.

For the first time Fairchilds fully realized, with shame at his blind selfishness, the danger and the cruelty of his intimate friendship with this little Mennonite maid. For her it could but end in a heartbreak; for him-"I have been a cad, a despicable cad!" he told himself in bitter self-reproach. "If I had only known! But now it's too late-unless-" In his mind he rapidly went over the simple history of their friendship as they walked along; and, busy with her own thought, Tillie did not notice his abstraction.

"Tillie," he said suddenly. "Next Saturday there is an examination of applicants for certificates at East Donegal. You must take that examination. You are perfectly well prepared to pass it."

"Oh, do you really, REALLY think I am?" the girl cried breathlessly.

"I know it. The only question is, How are you going to get off to attend the examination?"

"Father will be at the Lancaster market on Saturday morning!"

"Then I'll hire a buggy, come out to the farm, and carry you off!"

"No-oh, no, you must not do that. Father would be so angry with you!"

"You can't walk to Bast Donegal. It's six miles away."

"Let me think.-Uncle Abe would do anything I asked him-but he wouldn't have time to leave the hotel Saturday morning. And I couldn't make him or Aunty Em understand that I was educated enough to take the examination. But there's the Doc!"

"Of course!" cried Fairchilds. "The Doc isn't afraid of the whole county! Shall I tell him you'll go if he'll come for you?"

"Yes!"

"Good! I'll undertake to promise for him that he'll be there!"

"When father comes home from market and finds me gone!" Tillie said-but there was exultation, rather than fear, in her voice.

"When you show him your certificate, won't that appease him? When he realizes how much more you can earn by teaching than by working for your aunt, especially as he bore none of the expense of giving you your education? It was your own hard labor, and none of his money, that did it! And now I suppose he'll get all the profit of it!" Fairchilds could not quite keep down the rising indignation in his voice.

"No," said Tillie, quietly, though the color burned in her face. "Walter! I'm going to refuse to give father my salary if I am elected to a school. I mean to save my money to go to the Normal-where Miss Margaret is."

"So long as you are under age, he can take it from you, Tillie."

"If the school I teach is near enough for me to live at home, I'll pay my board. More than that I won't do."

"But how are you going to help yourself?"

"I haven't made up my mind, yet, how I'm going to do it. It will be the hardest struggle I've ever had-to stand out against him in such a thing," Tillie continued; "but I will not be weak, I will not! I have studied and worked all these years in the hope of a year at the Normal-with Miss Margaret. And I won't falter now!"

Before he could reply to her almost impassioned earnestness, they were startled by the sound of footsteps behind them in the woods-the heavy steps of men. Involuntarily, they both stopped short, Tillie with the feeling of one caught in a stolen delight; and Fairchilds with mingled annoyance at the interruption, and curiosity as to who might be wandering in this unfrequented patch of woods.

"I seen 'em go out up in here!"

It was the voice of Absalom. The answer came in the harsh, indignant tones of Mr. Getz. "Next time I leave her go to a Instytoot or such a Columbus Sallybration, she'll stay at HOME! Wastin' time walkin' 'round in the woods with that dude teacher!-and on a week-day, too!"

Tillie looked up at Fairchilds with an appeal that went to his heart. Grimly he waited for the two.

"So here's where you are!" cried Mr. Getz, striding up to them, and, before Fairchilds could prevent it, he had seized Tillie by the shoulder. "What you mean, runnin' off up here, heh? What you mean?" he demanded, shaking her with all his cruel strength.

"Stop that, you brute!" Fairchilds, unable to control his fury, drew back and struck the big man squarely on the chest. Getz staggered back, amazement at this unlooked-for attack for a moment getting the better of his indignation. He had expected to find the teacher cowed with fear at being discovered by a director and a director's son in a situation displeasing to them.

"Let the child alone, you great coward-or I 'll horsewhip you!"

Getz recovered himself. His face was black with passion. He lifted the horsewhip which he carried.

"You'll horsewhip me-me, Jake Getz, that can put you off William Penn TO-MORROW if I want! Will you do it with this here? he demanded, grasping the whip more tightly and lifting it to strike-but before it could descend, Fairchilds wrenched it out of his hand.

"Yes," he responded, "if you dare to touch that child again, you shameless dog!"

Tillie, with anguished eyes, stood motionless as marble, while Absalom, with clenched fists, awaited his opportunity.

"If I dare!" roared Getz. "If I have dare to touch my own child!" He turned to Tillie. "Come along," he exclaimed, giving her a cuff with his great paw; and instantly the whip came down with stinging swiftness on his wrist. With a bellow of pain, Getz turned on Fairchilds, and at the same moment, Absalom sprang on him from behind, and with one blow of his brawny arm brought the teacher to the ground. Getz sprawled over his fallen antagonist and snatched his whip from him.

"Come on, Absalom-we'll learn him oncet!" he cried fiercely. "We'll learn him what horsewhippin' is! We'll give him a lickin' he won't forget!"

Absalom laughed aloud in his delight at this chance to avenge his own defeat at the hands of the teacher, and with clumsy speed the two men set about binding the feet of the half-senseless Fairchilds with Absalom's suspenders.

Tillie felt herself spellbound, powerless to move or to cry out.

"Now!" cried Getz to Absalom, "git back, and I'll give it to him!"

The teacher, stripped of his two coats and bound hand and foot, was rolled over on his face. He uttered no word of protest, though they all saw that he had recovered consciousness. The truth was, he simply recognized the uselessness of demurring.

"Warm him up, so he don't take cold!" shouted Absalom-and even as he spoke, Jake Getz's heavy arm brought the lash down upon Fairchilds's back.

At the spiteful sound, life came back to Tillie. Like a wild thing, she sprang between them, seized her father's arm and hung upon it. "Listen to me! Listen! Father! If you strike him again, I'LL MARRY ABSALOM TO-MORROW!"

By inspiration she had hit upon the one argument that would move him.

Her father tried to shake her off, but she clung to his arm with the strength of madness, knowing that if she could make him grasp, even in his passionate anger, the real import of her threat, he would yield to her.

"I'll marry Absalom! I'll marry him to-morrow!" she repeated.

"You darsent-you ain't of age! Let go my arm, or I'll slap you ag'in!"

"I shall be of age in three months! I'll marry Absalom if you go on with this!"

"That suits me!" cried Absalom. "Keep on with it, Jake!"

"If you do, I'll marry him to-morrow!"

There was a look in Tillie's eyes and a ring in her voice that her father had learned to know. Tillie would do what she said.

And here was Absalom "siding along with her" in her unfilial defiance! Jacob Getz wavered. He saw no graceful escape from his difficulty.

"Look-ahere, Tillie! If I don't lick this here feller, I'll punish YOU when I get you home!"

Tillie saw that she had conquered him, and that the teacher was safe. She loosed her hold of her father's arm and, dropping on her knees beside Fairchilds began quickly to loosen his bonds. Her father did not check her.

"Jake Getz, you ain't givin' in THAT easy?" demanded Absalom, angrily.

"She'd up and do what she says! I know her! And I ain't leavin' her marry! You just wait"-he turned threateningly to Tillie as she knelt on the ground-"till I get you home oncet!"

Fairchilds staggered to his feet, and drawing Tillie up from the ground, he held her two hands in his as he turned to confront his enemies.

"You call yourselves men-you cowards and bullies! And you!" he turned his blazing eyes upon Getz, "you would work off your miserable spite on a weak girl-who can't defend herself! Dare to touch a hair of her head and I'll break YOUR damned head and every bone in your Body! Now take yourselves off, both of you, you curs, and leave us alone!"

"My girl goes home along with me!" retorted the furious Getz. "And YOU-you 'll lose your job at next Board Meetin', Saturday night! So you might as well pack your trunk! Here!" He laid his hand on Tillie's arm, but Fairchilds drew her to him and held his arm about her waist, while Absalom, darkly scowling, stood uncertainly by.

"Leave her with me. I must talk with her. MUST, I say. Do you hear me? She-"

His words died on his lips, as Tillie's head suddenly fell forward on his shoulder, and, looking down, Fairchilds saw that she had fainted.

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