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   Chapter 6 No.6

Amanda: A Daughter of the Mennonites By Anna Balmer Myers Characters: 17997

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


School Days

Mrs. Reist's desire for a happy childhood for her children was easily realized, especially in the case of Amanda. She had the happy faculty of finding joy in little things, things commonly called insignificant. She had a way of taking to herself each beauty of nature, each joy note of the birds, the airy loveliness of the clouds, and being thrilled by them.

With Phil and Martin Landis--and the ubiquitous Landis baby--she explored every field, woods and roadside in the Crow Hill section of the county. From association with her Phil and Martin had developed an equal interest in outdoors. The Landis boy often came running into the Reist yard calling for Amanda and exclaiming excitedly, "I found a bird's nest! It's an oriole this time, the dandiest thing way out on the end of a tiny twig. Come on see it!"

Amanda was the moving spirit of that little group of nature students. Phil and Martin might have never known an oriole from a thrush if she had not led them along the path of knowledge. Sometimes some of the intermediate Landis children joined the group. At times Lyman Mertzheimer sauntered along and invited himself, but his interest was feigned and his welcome was not always cordial.

"You Lyman Mertzheimer," Amanda said to him one day, "if you want to go along to see birds' nests you got to keep quiet! You think it's smart to scare them off the nests. That poor thrasher, now, that you scared last week! You had her heart thumpin' so her throat most burst. And her with her nest right down on the ground where we could watch the babies if we kept quiet. You're awful mean!"

"Huh," he answered, "what's a bird! All this fuss about a dinky brown bird that can't do anything but flop its wings and squeal when you go near it. It was fun to see her flop all around the ground."

"Oh, you nasty mean thing, Lyman Mertzheimer"--for a moment Amanda found no words to express her contempt of him--"sometimes I just hate you!"

He went off laughing, flinging back the prediction, "But some day you'll do the reverse, Amanda Reist." He felt secure in the belief that he could win the love of any girl he chose if he exerted himself to do so.

The little country school of Crow Hill was necessarily limited in its curriculum, hence when Amanda expressed a desire to become a teacher it was decided to send her to the Normal School at Millersville. At that time she was sixteen and was grown into an attractive girl.

"I know I'm not beautiful," she told her mother one day after a long, searching survey in the mirror. "My hair is too screaming red, but then it's fluffy and I got a lot of it. Add to red hair a nose that's a little pug and a mouth that's a little too big and I guess the combination won't produce any Cleopatra or any Titian beauty."

"But you forgot the eyes," her mother said tenderly. "They are pretty brown and look--ach, I can't put it in fine words like you could, but I mean this: Your eyes are such honest eyes and always look so happy, like you could see through dark places and find the light and could look on wicked people and see the good in them and be glad about it. You keep that look in your eyes and no pretty girl will be lovelier that you are, Amanda."

"Mother," the girl cried after she had kissed the white-capped woman, "if my eyes shine it's the faith and love you taught me that's shining in them."

During the summer preceding Amanda's departure for school there was pleasant excitement at the Reist farm. Millie was proud of the fact that Amanda was "goin' to Millersville till fall" and lost no oppor-tunity to mention it whenever a friend or neighbor dropped in for a chat.

Aunt Rebecca did not approve of too much education. "Of course," she put it, "you're spendin' your own money for this Millersville goin', but I think you'd do better if you put it to bank and give it to Amanda when she gets married, once. This here rutchin' round to school so long is all for nothin'. I guess she's smart enough to teach country school without goin' to Millersville yet."

However, her protests fell heedlessly on the ears of those most concerned and when the preparation of new clothes began Aunt Rebecca was the first to offer her help. "It's all for nothin', this school learnin', but if she's goin' anyhow I can just as well as not help with the sewin'," she announced and spent a few weeks at the Reist farm, giving valuable aid in the making of Amanda's school outfit.

Those two weeks were long ones to Philip, who had scant patience with the querulous old aunt. But Amanda, since she had glimpsed the girlhood romance of the woman, had a kindlier feeling for her and could smile at the faultfinding or at least run away from it without retort if it became too vexatious.

Crow Hill was only an hour's ride from the school at Millersville, so Amanda spent most of her weekends at home. Each time she had wonderful tales to tell, at least they seemed wonderful to the little group at the Reist farmhouse. Mrs. Reist and Uncle Amos, denied in their youth of more than a very meagre education, took just pride in the girl who was pursuing the road to knowledge. Philip, boylike, expressed no pride in his sister, but he listened attentively to her stories of how the older students played pranks on the newcomers. Millie was proud of having our Amanda away at school and did not hesitate to express her pride. She felt sure that before the girl's three years' course was completed the name of Amanda Reist would shine above all others on the pages of the Millersville Normal School records.

"Oh, I've learned a few things about human nature," said Amanda on her second visit home. "You know I told you last week how nice the older girls are to the new ones. A crowd of Seniors came into our room the other day and they were lovely! One of them told me she adored red hair and she just knew all the girls were going to love me because I have such a sweet face and I'm so dear--she emphasized every other word! I wondered what ailed her. She didn't know me well enough to talk like that. Before they left she began to talk about the Page Literary Society--'Dear, we're all Pageites, and it's the best, finest society in the school. We do have such good times. You ought to join. All the very nicest girls of the school are in it.' I promised to think it over. Well, soon after they left another bunch of girls came into our room and they were just as sweet to us. By and by one of them said, 'Dear, we're all in the Normal Literary Society. It's the best society in the school; all the very nicest girls belong to it. You should join it.'"

"Ha, electioneering, was they!" said Uncle Amos, laughing. "Well, leave it to the women. When they get the vote once we men got to pony up. But which society did you join?"

"Neither. I'm going to wait a while and while I'm waiting I'm having a glorious time. The Pageites invited me to a fudge party one night, the Normalites took me for a long walk, a Pageite treated me to icecream soda one day and a Normalite gave me some real home-made cake the same afternoon. It's great to be on the fence when both sides are coaxing you to jump their way."

"Well," said Millie, her face glowing with interest and pride in the girl, "if you ain't the funniest! I just bet them girls all want you to come their way. But what kind o' meals do you get?"

"Good, Millie. Of course, though, I haven't any cellar to go to for pie or any cooky crock filled with sand-tarts with shellbarks on the top."

"Don't you worry, Manda. I'll make you sand-tarts and lemon pie and everything you like every time you come home still."

"Millie, you good soul! With that promise to help me I'll work like a Trojan and win some honors at old M.S.N.S. Just watch me!"

Amanda did work. She brought to her studies the same whole-hearted interest and enthusiasm she evinced in her hunts for wild flowers, she applied to them the same dogged determination and untiring efforts she showed in her long search for hidden bird nests, with the inevitable result that her brain, naturally alert and brilliant, grasped with amazing celerity both the easy and the hard lessons of the Normal Training course.

Millie's prediction proved well founded--Amanda Reist stood well in her classes. In botany she was the preeminent figure of the entire school. "Ask Amanda Reist, she'll tell you," became the slogan among the students. "Yellow violets, lady-slippers, wild ginger--she'll tell you where they grow or get a specimen for you."

When the time for graduation drew near Amanda was able to carry home the glad news that she ranked third in her class and was chosen to deliver an oration at the Commencement exercises.

"That I want to hear," declared Millie, "and I'll get a new dress to wear to it, too."

On the June morning when the Commencement exercises of the First Pennsylvania State Normal School took place there were hundreds of happy, eager visitors on the cam

pus at Millersville, and later in the great auditorium, but none was happier than Millie Hess, Reists' hired girl. The new dress, bought in Lancaster and made by Mrs. Reist and Aunt Rebecca, was a white lawn flecked with black. Millie had decided on a plain waist with high neck, the inch wide band at the throat edged with torchon lace, after the style she usually wore, the skirt made full and having above the hem, as Millie put it, "Just a few tucks, then wait a while, then tucks again." But Amanda, happening on the scene as the dress was tried on, protested at the high neck.

"Please, Millie," she coaxed, "do have the neck turned down, oh, just a little! I'd have a nice pleated ruffle of white net around it and a little V in front. You'd look fine that way."

"Me-fine! Go long with you, Amanda Reist! Ain't I got two good eyes and a lookin'-glass? But I guess I would look more like other folks if I had it made like you say. But now I don't want it too low. You dare fix it so it looks right." Displaying the same meek acquiescence in the desire of Amanda she bought a stylish hat instead of the big flat sailor with its taffeta bow she generally chose. The hat was Amanda's selection, a small, modest little thing with pale pink and gray roses misty with a covering of black tulle.

"Me with pink roses on my hat and over forty years old," said Millie wonderingly, but when she tried it on and saw the improvement in her appearance she smiled happily. "It's the prettiest hat I ever had and I'll hold it up and take good care of it so it'll last me years. I'm gettin' fixed up for sure once, only my new shoes don't have no squeak in 'em at all."

"That's out of style," Amanda informed her kindly.

"It is? Why, when I was little I remember hearin' folks tell how when they bought new shoes they always asked for a 'fib's worth of squeak' in 'em."

"And now they pay the shoemaker more than a 'fib' to put a few pegs in the shoes and take the squeak out."

"Well, well, how things get different! But then I'm glad mine don't make no noise if that's the way now."

Commencement day Millie could have held her own with any well-dressed city woman. Her plain face was almost beautiful as she stood ready for the great event of Amanda's life. At the last moment she thought of the big bush of shrubs in the yard--"I must get me a shrub to smell in the Commencement," she decided. So she gathered one of the queer-looking, fragrant brown blossoms, tied it in the corner of her handkerchief and bruised it gently so that the sweet perfume might be exuded. "Um-ah," she breathed in the odor, "now I'm ready for Millersville."

As she stood with Mrs. Reist and Philip on the front porch waiting for Uncle Amos she said to Mrs. Reist, "Ain't Amanda fixed me up fine? Abody'd hardly know me."

Mrs. Reist in her plain gray Mennonite dress and stiff black silk bonnet was, as usual, an attractive figure. Philip, grown to the dignity of long trousers, carried himself with all the poise of seventeen. He was now a student in the Lancaster High School and had he not learned to dress and act like city boys do! Uncle Amos, in his best Sunday suit of gray, his Mennonite hat in his hand, ambled along last as the little group went down the aisle of the Millersville chapel to see Amanda's graduation.

As Amanda marched in, her red hair parted on the side and coiled into a womanly coiffure, wearing a simple white organdie, she was just one of the hundred graduates who marched into the chapel. But later, as she stood alone on the platform and delivered her oration, "The Flowers of the Garden Spot," she held the interested attention of all in that vast audience. She knew her subject and succeeded in waking in the hearts of her hearers a desire to go out in the green fields and quiet woods and find the lovely habitants of the flower world.

After it was all over and she stood, shining-eyed and happy, among her own people in the chapel, Martin Landis joined them. He, too, had left childhood behind. The serious gravity of his new estate was deepened in his face, but the same tenderness that had soothed the numerous Landis babies also still dwelt there. One of the regrets of his heart was the fact that nature had denied him great stature. He had always dreamed of growing into a tall man, powerful in physique, like Lyman Mertzheimer. But nature was obstinate and Martin Landis reached manhood, a strong, sturdy being, but of medium height. His mother tried to assuage his disappointment by asserting that even if his stature was not great as he wished his heart was big enough to make up for it. He tried to live up to her valuation of him, but it was scant comfort as he stood in the presence of physically big men. Life had not dealt generously with him as with Amanda in the matter of education. He wanted a chance to study at some institution higher than the little school at Crow Hill but his father needed him on the farm. The elder man was subject to attacks of rheumatism and at such times the brunt of farm labor fell upon the shoulders of Martin.

Money was scarce in the Landis household, there were so many mouths to feed and it seemed to Martin that he would never have the opportunity to do anything but work in the fields from early spring to late autumn, snatch a few months for study in a business college in Lancaster, then go back again to the ploughing and arduous duties of his father's farm. He thought enviously of Lyman Mertzheimer, whose father had sent him to a well-known preparatory school and then started him in a full course in one of the leading universities of the country. If he had a chance like that! If he could only get away from the farm long enough to earn some money he knew he could work his way through school and fit himself for some position he would like better than farming. Some such thoughts ran through his brain as he went to congratulate Amanda on her graduation day.

"Oh, Martin!" she greeted him cordially. "So you got here, after all. I'm so glad!"

"So am I. I wouldn't have missed that oration for a great deal. I could smell the arbutus--say, it was great, Amanda!"

At that moment Lyman Mertzheimer joined them.

"Congratulations, Amanda," he said in his affected manner. As the good-looking son of a wealthy man he credited himself with the possession of permissible pride. "Congratulations," he repeated, ignoring the smaller man who stood by the side of the girl. "Your oration was beautifully rendered. You were very eloquent, but if you will pardon me, I'd like to remind you of one flower you forgot to mention--a very important flower of the Garden Spot."

"I did?" she said as though it were a negligible matter. "What was the flower I forgot?"

"Amanda Reist," he said, and laughed at his supposed cleverness.

"Oh," she replied, vexed at his words and his bold attitude, "I left that out purposely along with some of the weeds of the Garden Spot I might have mentioned."

"Meaning me?" He lifted his eyebrows in question. "You don't really mean that, Amanda." He spoke in winning voice. "I know you don't mean that so I won't quarrel with you."

"Well, I guess you better not!" spoke up Millie who had listened to all that was said. "You don't have to get our Amanda cross on this here day. She done fine in that speech and we're proud of her and don't want you nor no one else to go spoil it by any fuss."

"I see you have more than one champion, Amanda. I'll have to be very careful how I speak to you." He laughed but a glare of anger shone in his eyes.

A few moments later the little party broke up and Lyman went off alone. A storm raged within him--"A hired girl to speak to me like that--a common hired girl! I'll teach her her place when I marry Amanda. And Amanda was high and mighty to-day. Thought she owned the world because she graduated from Millersville! As though that's anything! She's the kind needs a strong hand, a master hand. And I'll be the master! I like her kind, the women who have spirit and fire. But she needs to be held under, subjected by a stronger spirit. That little runt of a Martin Landis was hanging round her, too. He has no show when I'm in the running. He's poor and has no education. He's just a clodhopper."

Meanwhile the clodhopper had also said good-bye to Amanda. For some reason he did not stop to analyze, the heart of Martin Landis was light as he went home from the Commencement at Millersville. He had always detested Lyman Mertzheimer, for he had felt too often the snubs and taunts of the rich boy. Amanda's rebuff of the arrogant youth pleased Martin.

"I like Amanda," he thought frankly, but he never went beyond that in the analysis of his feelings for the comrade of his childhood and young boyhood. "I like her and I'd hate to see her waste her time on a fellow like Lyman Mertzheimer. I'm glad she squelched him. Perhaps some day he'll find there are still some desirable things that money can't buy."

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