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   Chapter 26 TILLIE'S LAST FIGHT

Tillie: A Mennonite Maid By Helen Reimensnyder Martin Characters: 12305

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"We are now ready to wote fer the teacher fer William Penn fer the spring term," announced the president of the Board, when all the preliminary business of the meeting had been disposed of; "and before we perceed to that dooty, we will be glad to hear any remarks."

The members looked at Mr. Getz, and he promptly rose to his feet to make the speech which all were expecting from him-the speech which was to sum up the reasons why his daughter should not be reelected for another term to William Penn. As all these reasons had been expounded many times over in the past few months, to each individual school director, Mr. Getz's statements to-night were to be merely a more forcible repetition of his previous arguments.

But scarcely had he cleared his throat to begin, when there was a knock on the door; it opened, and, to their amazement, Tillie walked into the room. Her eyes sparkling, her face flushed, her head erect, she came straight across the room to the table about which the six educational potentates were gathered.

That she had come to plead her own cause, to beg to be retained at her post, was obviously the object of this intrusion upon the sacred privacy of their weighty proceedings.

Had that, in very truth, been her purpose in coming to them, she would have found little encouragement in the countenances before her. Every one of them seemed to stiffen into grim disapproval of her unfilial act in thus publicly opposing her parent.

But there was something in the girl's presence as she stood before them, some potent spell in her fresh girlish beauty, and in the dauntless spirit which shone in her eyes, that checked the words of stern reproof as they sprang to the lips of her judges.

"John Kettering,"-her clear, soft voice addressed the Amish president of the Board, adhering, in her use of his first name, to the mode of address of all the "plain" sects of the county,-"have I your permission to speak to the Board?"

"It wouldn't be no use." The president frowned and shook his head. "The wotes of this here Board can't be influenced. There's no use your wastin' any talk on us. We're here to do our dooty by the risin' generation." Mr. Kettering, in his character of educator, was very fond of talking about "the rising generation." "And," he added, "what's right's right."

"As your teacher at William Penn, I have a statement to make to the Board," Tillie quietly persisted. "It will take me but a minute. I am not here to try to influence the vote you are about to take."

"If you ain't here to influence our wotes, what are you here fer?"

"That's what I ask your permission to tell the Board."

"Well," John Kettering reluctantly conceded, "I'll give you two minutes, then. Go on. But you needn't try to get us to wote any way but the way our conscience leads us to."

Tillie's eyes swept the faces before her, from the stern, set features of her father on her left, to the mild-faced, long-haired, hooks-and-eyes Amishman on her right. The room grew perfectly still as they stared at her in expectant curiosity; for her air and manner did not suggest the humble suppliant for their continued favor,-rather a self-confidence that instinctively excited their stubborn opposition. "She'll see oncet if she kin do with us what she wants," was the thought in the minds of most of them.

"I am here," Tillie spoke deliberately and distinctly, "to tender my resignation."

There was dead silence.

"I regret that I could not give you a month's notice, according to the terms of my agreement with you. But I could not foresee the great good fortune that was about to befall me."

Not a man stirred, but an ugly look of malicious chagrin appeared upon the face of Nathaniel Puntz. Was he foiled in his anticipated revenge upon the girl who had "turned down" his Absalom? Mr. Getz sat stiff and motionless, his eyes fixed upon Tillie.

"I resign my position at William Penn," Tillie repeated, "TO GO TO EUROPE FOR FOUR MONTHS' TRAVEL with Miss Margaret."

Again she swept them with her eyes. Her father's face was apoplectic; he was leaning forward, trying to speak, but he was too choked for utterance. Nathaniel Puntz looked as though a wet sponge had been dashed upon his sleek countenance. The other directors stared, dumfounded. This case had no precedent in their experience. They were at a loss how to take it.

"My resignation," Tillie continued, "must take effect immediately-to-night. I trust you will have no difficulty in getting a substitute."

She paused-there was not a movement or a sound in the room.

"I thank you for your attention." Tillie bowed, turned, and walked across the room. Not until she reached the door was the spell broken. With her hand on the knob, she saw her father rise and start toward her.

She had no wish for an encounter with him; quickly she went out into the hall, and, in order to escape him, she opened the street door, stepped out, and closed it very audibly behind her. Then hurrying in at the adjoining door of the bar-room, she ran out to the hotel kitchen, where she knew she would find her aunt.

Mrs. Wackernagel was alone, washing dishes at the sink. She looked up with a start at Tillie's hurried entrance, and her kindly face showed distress as she saw who it was; for, faithful to the Rules, she would not speak to this backslider and excommunicant from the faith. But Tillie went straight up to her, threw her arms about her neck, and pressed her lips to her aunt's cheek.

"Aunty Em! I can't go away without saying good-by to you. I am going to Europe! TO EUROPE, Aunty Em!" she cried. The words sounded unreal and strange to her, and she repeated them to make their meaning clear to herself. "Miss Margaret has sent for me to take me with her TO EUROPE!"

She rapidly told her aunt all that had happened, and Mrs. Wackernagel's bright, eager face of delight expressed all the sympathy and affection which Tillie craved from her, but which the Mennonite dared not utter.

"Aunty Em, no matter where I go or what may befall me, I shall never forget your love and kindness. I shall remember it always, ALWAYS."

Aunty Em's emotions were stronger, for the moment, than her allegiance to the Rules, and her motherly arms drew the girl to her bosom and held her there in a long, silent embrace.

She refrained, however, from kissing her; and presently Tillie drew herself away and, dashing the tears from her eyes, went out of the house by the back kitchen door. From here she made her way, in a roundabout fashion, to the rear entrance of the store-keeper's house across the road, for she was quite sure that her father had gone into the store in search of her.

Cautiously stepping into the kitchen, she found Fairchilds restlessly pacing the floor, and he greeted her return with a look of mingled pleasure and apprehension.

"Your father is out front, in the store, Tillie," he whispered, coming close to her. "He's looking for you. He doesn't know I'm in town, of course. Come outside and I 'll tell you our plan."

He led the way out of doors, and they sought the seclusion of a grape-arbor far down the garden.

"We'll leave it to the Doc to entertain your father," Fairchilds went on; "you will have to leave here with me to-night, Tillie, and as soon as possible, for your father will make trouble for us. We may as well avoid a conflict with him-especially for your sake. For myself, I shouldn't mind it!" He smiled grimly.

He was conscious, as his eyes rested on Tillie's fair face under the evening light, of a reserve in her attitude toward him that was new to her. It checked his warm impulse to take her hands in his and tell her how glad he was to see her again.

"How can we possibly get away to-night?" she asked him. "There are no stages until the morning."

"We shall have to let the Doc's fertile brain solve it for us, Tillie. He has a plan, I believe. Of course, if we have to wait until morning and fight it out with your father, then we'll have to, that's all. But I hope that may be avoided and that we may get away quietly."

They sat in silence for a moment. Suddenly Fairchilds leaned toward her and spoke to her earnestly.

"Tillie, I want to ask you something. Please tell me-why did you never answer my letters?"

She lifted her startled eyes to his. "Your letters?"

"Yes. Why didn't you write to me?"

"You wrote to me?" she asked incredulously.

"I wrote you three times. You don't mean to tell me you never got my letters?"

"I never heard from you. I would-I would have been so glad to!"

"But how could you have missed getting them?"

Her eyes fell upon her hands clasped in her lap, and her cheeks grew pale.

"My father," she half whispered.

"He kept them from you?"

"It must have been so."

Fairchilds looked very grave. He did not speak at once.

"How can you forgive such things?" he presently asked. "One tenth of the things you have had to bear would have made an incarnate fiend of me!"

She kept her eyes downcast and did not answer.

"I can't tell you," he went on, "how bitterly disappointed I was when I didn't hear from you. I couldn't understand why you didn't write. And it gave me a sense of disappointment in YOU. I thought I must have overestimated the worth of our friendship in your eyes. I see now-and indeed in my heart I always knew-that I did you injustice."

She did not look up, but her bosom rose and fell in long breaths.

"There has not been a day," he said, "that I have not thought of you, and wished I knew all about you and could see you and speak with you-Tillie, what a haunting little personality you are!"

She raised her eyes then,-a soft fire in them that set his pulse to bounding. But before she could answer him they were interrupted by the sound of quick steps coming down the board walk toward the arbor. Tillie started like a deer ready to flee, but Fairchilds laid a reassuring hand upon hers. "It's the Doc," he said.

The faithful old fellow joined them, his finger on his lips to warn them to silence.

"Don't leave no one hear us out here! Jake Getz he's went over to the hotel to look fer Tillie, but he'll be back here in a jiffy, and we've got to hurry on. Tillie, you go on up and pack your clo'es in a walise or whatever, and hurry down here back. I'm hitchin' my buggy fer yous as quick as I kin. I'll leave yous borry the loan of it off of me till to-morrow-then, Teacher, you kin fetch it over ag'in. Ain't?"

"All right, Doc; you're a brick!"

Tillie sped into the house to obey the doctor's bidding, and Fairchilds went with him across the street to the hotel stables.

In the course of ten minutes the three conspirators were together again in the stable-yard behind the store, the doctor's horse and buggy ready before them.

"Father's in the store-I heard his voice," panted Tillie, as Fairchilds took her satchel from her and stowed it in the back of the buggy.

"Hurry on, then," whispered the doctor, hoarsely, pushing them both, with scant ceremony, into the carriage. "GOOD-by to yous-and good luck! Och, that's all right; no thanks necessary! I'm tickled to the end of my hair at gettin' ahead of Jake Getz! Say, Fairchilds," he said, with a wink, "this here mare's wonderful safe-you don't HAVE to hold the reins with both hands! See?"

And he shook in silent laughter at his own delicate and delicious humor, as he watched them start out of the yard and down the road toward Millersville.

For a space there was no sound but the rhythmic beat of hoofs and the rattle of the buggy wheels; but in the heart of the Mennonite maid, who had fought her last battle for freedom and won, there was ineffable peace and content; and her happiness smiled from quivering lips and shone in her steadfast eyes.

Mr. Abe Wackernagel, of the New Canaan hotel, was very fond, in the years that followed, of bragging to his transient guests of his niece who was the wife of "such a Millersville Normal perfessor-Perfessor Fairchilds." And Mr. Jake Getz was scarcely less given to referring to his daughter "where is married to such a perfessor at the Normal."

"But what do I get out of it?" he was wont ruefully to add. "Where do I come in, yet?-I where raised her since she was born, a'ready?"

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