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Tillie: A Mennonite Maid By Helen Reimensnyder Martin Characters: 21157

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

As a drowning man clings to whatever comes in his way, Tillie, in these weary days of heart-ache and yearning, turned with new intensity of feeling to Miss Margaret, who had never failed her, and their interchange of letters became more frequent.

Her father did not easily give up the struggle with her for the possession of her salary. Finding that he could not legally collect it himself from the treasurer of the Board, he accused his brother-in-law, Abe Wackernagel, of having taken it to town for her; and when Abe denied the charge, with the assurance, however, that he "WOULD do that much for Tillie any day he got the chancet," Mr. Getz next taxed the doctor, who, of course, without the least scruple, denied all knowledge of Tillie's monetary affairs.

On market day, he had to go to Lancaster City, and when his efforts to force Tillie to sign a cheek payable to him had proved vain, his baffled greed again roused him to uncontrollable fury, and lifting his hand, he struck her across the cheek.

Tillie reeled and would have fallen had he not caught her, his anger instantly cooling in his fear lest she faint again. But Tillie had no idea of fainting. "Let me go," she said quietly, drawing her arm out of his clasp. Turning quickly away, she walked straight out of the room and up-stairs to her chamber.

Her one change of clothing she quickly tied into a bundle, and putting on her bonnet and shawl, she walked down-stairs and out of the house.

"Where you goin'?" her father demanded roughly as he followed her out on the porch.

She did not answer, but walked on to the gate. In an instant he had overtaken her and stood squarely in her path.

"Where you goin' to?" he repeated.

"To town, to board at the store."

He dragged her, almost by main force, back into the house, and all that evening kept a watch upon her until he knew that she was in bed.

Next morning, Tillie carried her bundle of clothing to school with her, and at the noon recess she went to the family who kept the village store and engaged board with them, saying she could not stand the daily walks to and from school.

When, at six o'clock that evening, she had not returned home, her father drove in to the village store to get her. But she locked herself in her bedroom and would not come out.

In the next few weeks he tried every means of force at his command, but in vain; and at last he humbled himself to propose a compromise.

"I'll leave you have some of your money every month, Tillie,-as much as ten dollars,-if you'll give me the rest, still."

"Why should I give it to you, father? How would that benefit ME?" she said, with a rather wicked relish in turning the tables on him and applying his life principle of selfishness to her own case.

Her father did not know how to meet it. Never before in her life, to his knowledge, had Tillie considered her own benefit before his and that of his wife and children. That she should dare to do so now seemed to knock the foundations from under him.

"When I'm dead, won't you and the others inherit off of me all I've saved?" he feebly inquired.

"But that will be when I'm too old to enjoy or profit by it."

"How much do you want I should give you out of your wages every month, then?"

"You can't give me what is not yours to give."

"Now don't you be sassin' me, or I'll learn you!"

They were alone in her school-room on a late February afternoon, after school had been dismissed. Tillie quickly rose and reached for her shawl and bonnet. She usually tried to avoid giving him an opportunity like this for bullying her, with no one by to protect her.

"Just stay settin'," he growled sullenly, and she knew from his tone that he had surrendered.

"If you'll come home to board, I won't bother you no more, then," he further humbled himself to add. The loss even of the twelve dollars' board was more than he could bear.

"It would not be safe," answered Tillie, grimly.

"Och, it 'll be safe enough. I'll leave you be."

"It would not be safe for YOU."

"Fur me? What you talkin'?"

"If you lost your temper and struck me, I might kill you. That's why I came away."

The father stared in furtive horror at the white, impassive face of his daughter.

Could this be Tillie-his meek, long-suffering Tillie?

"Another thing," she continued resolutely, for she had lost all fear of speaking her mind to him, "why should I pay you twelve dollars a month board, when I get my board at the store for six, because I wait on customers between times?"

Mr. Getz looked very downcast. There was a long silence between them.

"I must go now, father. This is the hour that I always spend in the store."

"I'll board you fur six, then," he growled.

"And make me work from four in the morning until eight or nine at night? It is easier standing in the store. I can read when there are no customers."

"To think I brung up a child to talk to me like this here!" He stared at her incredulously.

"The rest will turn out even worse," Tillie prophesied with conviction, "unless you are less harsh with them. Your harshness will drive every child you have to defy you."

"I'll take good care none of the others turns out like you!" he threateningly exclaimed. "And YOU'LL see oncet! You'll find out! You just wait! I tried everything-now I know what I'm doin'. It'll LEARN you!"

In the next few weeks, as nothing turned up to make good these threats, Tillie often wondered what her father had meant by them. It was not like him to waste time in empty words.

But she was soon to learn. One evening the doctor came over to the store to repeat to her some rumors he had heard and which he thought she ought to know.

"Tillie! your pop's workin' the directers to have you chased off William Penn till the April election a'ready!"

"Oh, Doc!" Tillie gasped, "how do you know?"

"That's what the talk is. He's goin' about to all of 'em whenever he can handy leave off from his work, and he's tellin' 'em they had ought to set that example to onruly children; and most of 'em's agreein' with him. Nathaniel Puntz he agrees with him. Absalom he talks down on you since you won't leave him come no more Sundays, still. Your pop he says when your teachin' is a loss to him instead of a help, he ain't leavin' you keep on. He says when you don't have no more money, you'll have to come home and help him and your mom with the work. Nathaniel Puntz he says this is a warnin' to parents not to leave their children have too much education-that they get high-minded that way and won't even get married."

"But, Doc," Tillie pleaded with him in an agony of mind, "you won't let them take my school from me, will you? You'll make them let me keep it?"

The doctor gave a little laugh. "By golly, Tillie, I ain't the President of America! You think because I got you through oncet or twicet, I kin do ANYthing with them directers, still! Well, a body can't ALWAYS get ahead of a set of stubborn-headed Dutchmen-and with Nathaniel Puntz so wonderful thick in with your pop to work ag'in' you, because you won't have that dumm Absalom of hisn!"

"What shall I do?" Tillie cried. "I can never, never go back to my old life again-that hopeless, dreary drudgery on the farm! I can't, indeed I can't! I won't go back. What shall I do?"

"Look-ahere, Tillie!" the doctor spoke soothingly, "I'll do what I otherwise kin to help you. I'll do, some back-talkin' myself to them directers. But you see," he said in a troubled tone, "none of them directers happens to owe me no doctor-bill just now, and that makes it a little harder to persuade 'em to see my view of the case. Now if only some of their wives would up and get sick for 'em and I could run 'em up a bill! But," he concluded, shaking his head in discouragement, "it's a wonderful healthy season-wonderful healthy!"

In the two months that followed, the doctor worked hard to counteract Mr. Getz's influence with the Board. Tillie, too, missed no least opportunity to plead her cause with them, not only by direct argument, but by the indirect means of doing her best possible work in her school.

But both she and the doctor realized, as the weeks moved on, that they were working in vain; for Mr. Getz, in his statements to the directors, had appealed to some of their most deep-rooted prejudices. Tillie's filial insubordination, her "high-mindedness," her distaste for domestic work, so strong that she refused even to live under her father's roof-all these things made her unfit to be an instructor and guide to their young children. She would imbue the "rising generation" with her worldly and wrong-headed ideas.

Had Tillie remained "plain," she would no doubt have had the championship of the two New Mennonite members of the Board. But her apostasy had lost her even that defense, for she no longer wore her nun-like garb. After her suspension from meeting and her election to William Penn, she had gradually drifted into the conviction that colors other than gray, black, or brown were probably pleasing to the Creator, and that what really mattered was not what she wore, but what she was. It was without any violent struggles or throes of anguish that, in this revolution of her faith, she quite naturally fell away from the creed which once had held her such a devotee. When she presently appeared in the vain and ungodly habiliments of "the world's people," the brethren gave her up in despair and excommunicated her.

"No use, Tillie," the doctor would report in discouragement, week after week; "we're up against it sure this time! You're losin' William Penn till next month, or I'll eat my hat! A body might as well TRY to eat his hat as move them pig-headed Dutch once they get sot. And they're sot on puttin' you out, all right! You see, your pop and Nathaniel Puntz they just fixed 'em! Me and you ain't got no show at all."

Tillie could think of no way of escape from her desperate position. What was there before her but a return to the farm, or perhaps, at best, marriage with Absalom?

"To be sure, I should have to be reduced to utter indifference to my fate if I ever consented to marry Absalom," she bitterly told herself. "But when it is a question between doing that and living at home, I don't know but I might be driven to it!"

At times, the realization that there was no possible appeal from her situation did almost drive her to a frenzy. After so many years of struggle, just as she was tasting success, to lose all the fruits of her labor-how could she endure it?

With the work she loved taken away from her, how could she bear the gnawing hunger at her heart for the presence of him unto whom was every thought of her brain and every throbbing pulse of her soul? The future seemed to stretch before her, a terrible, an unendurable blank.

The first week of April was the time fixed for the meeting of the Board at which she was to be "chased off her job"; and as the fatal day drew near, a sort of lethargy settled upon her, and she ceased to straggle, even in spirit, against the inevitable.

"Well, Tillie," the doctor said, with a long sigh, as he came into the store at six o'clock on the eventful evening, and leaned over the counter to talk to the girl, "they're all conwened by now, over there in the hotel parlor. Your pop and Nathaniel Puntz they're lookin' wonderful important. Tour pop," he vindictively added, "is just chucklin' at the idea of gettin' you home under his thumb ag'in!"

Tillie did not speak. She sat behind the counter, her cheeks resting on the backs of her hands, her wistful eyes gazing past the doctor toward the red light in the hotel windows across the way.

"Golly! but I'd of liked to beat 'em out on this here game! But they've got us, Tillie! They'll be wotin' you out of your job any minute now. And then your pop'll be comin' over here to fetch you along home! Oh! If he wasn't your pop I c'd say somethin' real perfane about him."

Tillie drew a long breath; but she did not speak. She could not. It seemed to her that she had come to the end of everything.

"Look-ahere, Tillie," the doctor spoke suddenly, "you just up and get ahead of 'em all-you just take yourself over to the Millersville Normal! You've got some money saved, ain't you?"

"Yes!" A ray of hope kindled in her eyes. "I have saved one hundred and twenty-five dollars! I should have more than that if I had not returned to the world's dress."

"A hundred and twenty-five's plenty enough for a good starter at the Millersville Normal," said the doctor.

"But," Tillie hesitated, "this is April, and the spring term closes in three months. What should I do and where could I go after that? If I made such a break with father, he might refuse to take me home even if I had nowhere else to go. Could I risk that?"

The doctor leaned his head on his hand and heavily considered the situation.

"I'm blamed if I dare adwise you, Tillie. It's some serious adwisin' a young unprotected female to leave her pop's rooft to go out into the unbeknownst world," he said sentimentally. "To be sure, Miss Margaret would see after you while you was at the Normal. But when wacation is here in June she might mebbe be goin' away for such a trip like, and then if you couldn't come back home, you'd be throwed out on the cold wide world, where there's many a pitfall for the onwary."

"It seems too great a risk to run, doesn't it? There seems to be nothing-nothing-that I can do but go back to the farm," she said, the hope dying out of her eyes.

"Just till I kin get you another school, Tillie," he consoled her. "I'll be lookin' out for a wacancy in the county for you, you bet!"

"Thank you, Doc," she answered wearily; "but you know another school couldn't possibly be open to me until next fall-five months from now."

She threw her head back upon the palm of her hand. "I'm so tired-so very tired of it all. What's the use of struggling? What am I struggling FOR?"

"What are you struggling FUR?" the doctor repeated. "Why, to get shed of your pop and all them kids out at the Getz farm that wears out your young life workin' for 'em! That's what! And to have some freedom and money of your own-to have a little pleasure now and ag'in! I tell you, Tillie, I don't want to see you goin' out there to that farm ag'in!"

"Do you think I should dare to run away to the Normal?" she asked fearfully.

The doctor tilted back his hat and scratched his head.

"Leave me to think it over oncet, Tillie, and till to-morrow mornin' a'ready I'll give you my answer. My conscience won't give me the dare to adwise you offhand in a matter that's so serious like what this is."

"Father will want to make me go out to the farm with him this evening, I am sure," she said; "and when once I am out there, I shall not have either the spirit or the chance to get away, I'm afraid."

The doctor shook his head despondently. "We certainly are up ag'in' it! I can't see no way out."

"There is no way out," Tillie said in a strangely quiet voice. "Doc," she added after an instant, laying her hand on his rough one and pressing it, "although I have failed in all that you have tried to help me to be and to do, I shall never forget to be grateful to you-my best and kindest friend!"

The doctor looked down almost reverently at the little white hand resting against his dark one.

Suddenly Tillie's eyes fixed themselves upon the open doorway, where the smiling presence of Walter Fairchilds presented itself to her startled gaze.

"Tillie! AND the Doc! Well, it's good to see you. May I break in on your conference-I can see it '& important." He spoke lightly, but his voice was vibrant with some restrained emotion. At the first sight of him, Tillie's hand instinctively crept up to feel if those precious curls were in their proper place. The care and devotion she had spent upon them during all these weary, desolate months! And all because a man-the one, only man-had once said they were pretty! Alas, Tillie, for your Mennonite principles!

And now, at sight of the dear, familiar face and form, the girl trembled and was speechless.

Not so the doctor. With a yell, he turned upon the visitor, grasped both his hands, and nearly wrung them off.

"Hang me, of I was ever so glad to see a feller like wot I am you. Teacher," he cried in huge delight, "the country's saved! Providence fetched you here in the nick of time! You always was a friend to Tillie, and you kin help her out now!"

Walter Fairchilds did not reply at first. He stood, gazing over the doctor's shoulder at the new Tillie, transformed in countenance by the deep waters through which she had passed in the five months that had slipped round since he had gone out of her life; and so transformed in appearance by the dropping of her Mennonite garb that he could hardly believe the testimony of his eyes.

"Is it-is it really you, Tillie?" he said, holding out his hand. "And aren't you even a little bit glad to see me?"

The familiar voice brought the life-blood back to her face. She took a step toward him, both hands outstretched,-then, suddenly, she stopped and her cheeks crimsoned. "Of course we're glad to see you-very!" she said softly but constrainedly.

"Lemme tell you the news," shouted the doctor. "You 'll mebbe save Tillie from goin' out there to her pop's farm ag'in! She's teacher at William Penn, and her pop's over there at the Board meetin' now, havin' her throwed off, and then he'll want to take her home to work herself to death for him and all them baker's dozen of children he's got out there! And Tillie she don't want to go-and waste all her nice education that there way!"

Fairchilds took her hand and looked down into her shining eyes.

"I hardly know you, Tillie, in your new way of dressing!"

"What-what brings you here?" she asked, drawing away her hand.

"I've come from the Millersville Normal School with a letter for you from Mrs. Lansing," he explained, "and I've promised to bring you back with me by way of answer.

"I am an instructor in English there now, you know, and so, of course, I have come to know your 'Miss Margaret,'" he added, in answer to Tillie's unspoken question.

The girl opened the envelop with trembling fingers and read:

"MY DEAR LITTLE MENNONITE MAID: We have rather suddenly decided to go abroad in July-my husband needs the rest and change, as do we all; and I want you to go with me as companion and friend, and to help me in the care of the children. In the meantime there is much to be done by way of preparation for such a trip; so can't you arrange to come to me at once and you can have the benefit of the spring term at the Normal. I needn't tell you, dear child, how glad I shall be to have you with me. And what such a trip ought to mean to YOU, who have struggled so bravely to live the life the Almighty meant that you should live, you only can fully realize. You're of age now and can act for yourself. Break with your present environment now, or, I'm afraid, Tillie, it will be never.

"Come to me at once, and with the bearer of this note. With love, I am, as always, your affectionate

"'Miss MARGARET.'"

When she had finished Tillie looked up with brimming eyes.

"Doc," she said, "listen!" and she read the letter aloud, speaking slowly and distinctly that he might fully grasp the glory of it all. At the end the sweet voice faltered and broke.

"Oh, Doc!" sobbed Tillie, "isn't it wonderful!"

The shaggy old fellow blinked his eyes rapidly, then suddenly relieved his feelings with an outrageous burst of profanity. With a rapidity bewildering to his hearers, his tone instantly changed again to one of lachrymose solemnity:

"'Gawd moves in a mysterious way

His wonders to perform!'"

he piously repeated. "AIN'T, now, he does, Tillie! Och!" he exclaimed, "I got a thought! You go right straight over there to that there Board meetin' and circumwent 'em! Before they're got TIME to wote you off your job, you up and throw their old William Penn in their Dutch faces, and tell 'em be blowed to 'em! Tell 'em you don't WANT their blamed old school-and you're goin' to EUROPE, you are! To EUROPE, yet!"

He seized her hand as he spoke and almost pulled her to the store door.

"Do it, Tillie!" cried Fairchilds, stepping after them across the store. "Present your resignation before they have a chance to vote you out! Do it!" he said eagerly.

Tillie looked from one to the other of the two men before her, excitement sparkling in her eyes, her breath coming short and fast.

"I will!"

Turning away, she ran down the steps, sped across the street, and disappeared in the hotel.

The doctor expressed his overflowing feelings by giving Fairchilds a resounding slap on the shoulders. "By gum, I'd like to be behind the skeens and witness Jake Getz gettin' fooled ag'in! This is the most fun I had since I got 'em to wote you five dollars a month extry, Teacher!" he chuckled. "Golly! I'm glad you got here in time! It was certainly, now," he added piously, "the hand of Providence that led you!"

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