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Amanda: A Daughter of the Mennonites By Anna Balmer Myers Characters: 27673

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Amanada Reist, Teacher

Amanda had no desire to teach far from her home. "I want to see the whole United States if I live long enough," she declared, "but I want to travel through the distant parts of it, not settle there to live. While I have a home I want to stay near it. So I wish I could get a school in Lancaster County."

Her wish was granted. There was an opening in Crow Hill, in the little rural school in which she had received the rudiments of her education. Amanda applied for the position and was elected.

She brought to that little school several innovations. Her love and knowledge of nature helped her to make the common studies less monotonous and more interesting. A Saturday afternoon nutting party with her pupils afforded a more promising subject for Monday's original composition than the hackneyed suggestions of the grammar book's "Tell all you know about the cultivation of coffee." Later, snow forts in the school-yard impressed the children with the story of Ticonderoga more indelibly than mere reading about it could have done. During her last year at Normal, Amanda had read about a school where geography was taught by the construction of miniature islands, capes, straits, peninsulas, and so forth, in the school-yard. She directed the older children in the formation of such a landscape picture. When a blundering boy slipped and with one bare foot demolished at one stroke the cape, island and bay, there was much merriment and rivalry for the honor of rebuilding. The children were almost unanimous in their affection for the new teacher and approval of her methods of teaching. Most of them ran home with eager tales concerning the wonderful, funny, "nice" ways Miss Reist had of teaching school.

However, Crow Hill is no Eden. Some of the older boys laughed at the "silly ideas" of "that Manda Reist" and disliked the way she taught geography and made the pupils "play in the dirt and build capes and islands and the whole blamed geography business right in the school-yard."

It naturally followed that adverse criticism grew and grew, like Longfellow's pumpkin, and many curious visitors came to Crow Hill school. The patrons, taxpayers, directors were concerned and considered it their duty to drop in and observe how things were being run in that school. They found that the three R's were still taught efficiently, even if they were taught with the aid of chestnuts, autumn leaves and flowers; they were glad to discover that an island, though formed in the school-yard from dirt and water, was still being defined with the old standard definition, "An island is a body of land entirely surrounded by water."

If any other school had graduated Amanda, her position might have been a trifle precarious, but Millersville Normal School was too well known and universally approved in Lancaster County to admit of any questionable suggestions about its recent graduate. Most of the people who came to inspect came without any antagonistic feeling and they left convinced that, although some of Amanda Reist's ways were a little different, the scholars seemed to know their lessons and to progress satisfactorily.

Later in the school year she urged the children to bring dried corn husk to school, she brought brightly colored raffia, and taught them how to make baskets. The children were clamorous for more knowledge of basket making. The fascinating task of forming objects of beauty and usefulness from homely corn husk and a few gay threads of raffia was novel to them. Amanda was willing to help the children along the path of manual dexterity and eager to have them see and love the beautiful. Under her guidance they gathered and pressed weeds and grasses and the airy, elusive milkweed down, caught butterflies, and assembled the whole under glass, thus making beautiful trays and pictures.

On the whole it was a wonderful, happy year for the new teacher of the Crow Hill school. When spring came with all the alluring witchery of the Garden Spot it seemed to her she must make every one of her pupils feel the thrill of the song-sparrow's first note and the matchless loveliness of the anemone.

One day in early April, the last week of school, as she locked the door of the schoolhouse and started down the road to her home an unusual glow of satisfaction beamed on her face.

"Only two more days of school, then the big Spelling Bee to wind it up and then my first year's teaching will be over! I have enjoyed it but I'm like the children--eager for vacation."

She hummed gaily as she went along, this nineteen-year-old school teacher so near the end of her first year's work in the schoolroom. Her eyes roved over the fair panorama of Lancaster County in early spring dress. As she neared the house she saw her Uncle Amos resting under a giant sycamore tree that stood in the front yard.

"Good times," she called to him.

"Hello, Manda," he answered. "You're home early."

"Early--it's half-past four. Have you been asleep and lost track of the time?"

He took a big silver watch from a pocket and whistled as he looked at it. "Whew! It is that late! Time for me to get to work again. Your Aunt Rebecca's here."

"Dear me! And I felt so happy! Now I'll get a call-down about something or other. I'm ashamed of myself, Uncle Amos, but I think Aunt Rebecca gets worse as she grows older."

"'Fraid so," the man agreed soberly. "Well, we can't all be alike. Too bad, now, she don't take after me, eh, Amanda?"

"It surely is! You're the nicest man I know!"

"Hold on now," he said; "next you make me blush. I ain't used to gettin' compliments."

"But I mean it. I don't see how she can be your sister and Mother's! I think the fairies must have mixed babies when she was little. I can see many good qualities in her, but there's no need of her being so contrary and critical. I remember how I used to be half afraid of her when I was little. She tried to make Mother dress me in a plain dress and a Mennonite bonnet, but Mother said she'd dress me like a little girl and if I chose I could wear the plain dress and bonnet when I was old enough to know what it means. Oh, Mother's wonderful! If I had Aunt Rebecca for a mother--but perhaps she'd be different then. Oh, Uncle Amos, do you remember the howl she raised when we had our house wired for electricity?"

"Glory, yes! She was scared to death to come here for a while."

"And Phil wickedly suggested we scare her again! But she was afraid of it. She was sure the house would be struck by lightning the first thunder-storm we'd have. And when we put the bath tub into the house-- whew! Didn't she give us lectures then! She has no use for 'swimmin' tubs' to this day. If folks can't wash clean out of a basin they must be powerful dirty! That's her opinion."

Both laughed at the remembrance of the old woman's words. Then the girl asked, "What did she have to say to you to-day? Did she iron any wrinkles out of you?"

"Oh, I got it a'ready." The man chuckled. "I was plantin' potatoes till my back was near broke and I came in to rest a little and get a drink. She told me it's funny people got to rest so often in these days when they do a little work. She worked in the fields often and she could stand more yet than a lot o' lazy men. I didn't answer her but I came out here and got my rest just the same. She ain't bossin' her brother Amos yet! But now I got to work faster for this doin' nothin' under the tree."

When Amanda entered the kitchen she found her mother and the visitor cutting carpet rags. Old clothes were falling under the snip of the shears into a peach basket, ready to be sewn together, wound into balls and woven into rag carpet by the local carpet weaver on his hand loom.

"Hello," said the girl as she laid a few books on the kitchen table.

"Books again," sniffed Aunt Rebecca. "I wonder now how much money gets spent for books that ain't necessary."

"Oh, lots of it," answered the girl cheerfully.

"Umph, did you buy those?"

"Yes, when I went to Millersville."

"My goodness, what a lot o' money goes for such things these days! There's books about everything, somebody told me. There's even some wrote about the Pennsylvania Dutch and about that there Stiegel glass some folks make such a fuss about. I don't see nothin' in that Stiegel glass to make it so dear. Why, I had a little white glass pitcher, crooked it was, too, and nothin' extra to look at. But along come one of them anteak men, so they call themselves, the men that buy up old things. Anyhow, he offered to give me a dollar for that little pitcher. Ach, I didn't care much for it, though it was Jonas's granny's still. I sold it to that man quick before he'd change his mind and mebbe only give me fifty cents."

"You sold it?" asked Amanda. "And was it this shape?"

She made a swift, crude sketch of the well-known Stiegel pitcher shape.

"My goodness, you drawed one just like it! It looked like that."

"Then, Aunt Rebecca, you gave that man a bargain. That was a real Stiegel pitcher and worth much more than a dollar!"

"My goodness, what did I do now! You mean it was worth more than that?" The woman was incredulous.

"You might have gotten five, perhaps ten, dollars for it in the city. You know Stiegel glass was some of the first to be made in this country, made in Manheim, Pennsylvania, way back in 1760, or some such early date as that. It was crude as to shape, almost all the pieces are a little crooked, but it was wonderfully made in some ways, for it has a ring like a bell, and the loveliest fluting, and some of it is in beautiful blue, green and amethyst. Stiegel glass is rare and valuable so if you have any more hold on to it and I'll buy it from you."

"Well, I guess! I wouldn't leave you pay five dollars for a glass pitcher! But I wish I had that one back. It spites me now I sold it. My goodness, abody can't watch out enough so you won't get cheated. Where did you learn so much about that old glass?"

"Oh, I read about it in a book last year," came the ready answer.

Aunt Rebecca looked at the girl, but Amanda's face bore so innocent an expression that the woman could not think her guilty of emphasizing the word purposely.

"So," the visitor said, "they did put something worth in a book once! Well, I guess it's time you learn something that'll help you save money. All the books you got to read! And Philip's still goin' to school, too. Why don't he help Amos on the farm instead of runnin' to Lancaster to school?"

"He wants to be a lawyer," said Mrs. Reist. "I think still that as long as he has a good head for learnin' and wants to go to school I should leave him go till he's satisfied. I think his pop would say so if he was livin'. Not everybody takes to farmin' and it is awful hard work. Amos works that hard."

"Poof," said Aunt Rebecca, "I ain't heard tell yet of any man workin' himself to death! It wouldn't hurt Philip to be a farmer. The trouble is it don't sound tony enough for the young ones these days. Lawyer-- what does he want to be a lawyer for? I heard a'ready that they are all liars. You're by far too easy!"

"Oh, Aunt Rebecca," said Amanda, "not all lawyers are liars. Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer."

"Ach, I guess he was no different from others, only he's dead so abody shouldn't talk about him."

Amanda sighed and turned to her mother. "Mother, I'm going up to put on an old dress and when Phil comes we're going over to the woods for arbutus."

"All right."

But the aunt did not consider it all right. "Why don't you help cut carpet rags?" she asked. "That would be more sense than runnin' out after flowers that wither right aways."

"If we find any, Millie is going to take them to market to-morrow and sell them. Some people asked for them last week. It's rather early but we may find some on the sunny side of the woods."

"Oh," the woman was mollified, "if you're goin' to sell 'em that's different. Ain't it funny anybody buys flowers? But then some people don't know how to spend their money and will buy anything, just so it's buyin'!"

But Amanda was off to the wide stairs, beyond the sound of the haranguing voice.

"Glory!" she said to herself when she reached her room. "If my red hair didn't bristle! What a life we'd have if Mother were like that! If I ever think I have nothing to be thankful for I'm going to remember that!"

A little while later she went down the stairs, out through the yard and down the country road to meet her brother. She listened for his whistle. In childhood he had begun the habit of whistling a strain from the old song, "Soldier's Farewell" and, like many habits of early years, it had clung to him. So when Amanda heard the plaintive melody, "How can I leave thee, how can I from thee part," she knew that her brother was either arriving or leaving.

As she walked down the road in the April sunshine the old whistle floated to her. She hastened her steps and in a bend in the road came face to face with the boy.

At sight of her he stopped whistling, whipped off his cap and greeted her, "Hello, Sis. I thought that would bring you if you were about. Oh, don't look so tickled over my politeness--I just took off my hat because I'm hot. This walk from the trolley on a day like this warms you up."

His words brought a light push from the girl as she took her place beside him and they walked on.

"That's a mournful whistle for a home-coming," Amanda told him. "Can't you find a more appropriate one?"

"My repertoire is limited, sister--I learned that big word in English class to-day and had to try it out on some one."

"Phil, you're crazy!" was the uncomplimentary answer, but her eyes smiled with pride upon the tall, red-haired boy beside her. "I see it's one of your giddy days

so I'll sober you up a bit--Aunt Rebecca's at the house."

"Oh, yea!" He held his side in mock agony.

"Again? What's the row now? Any curtain lectures?"

"Be comforted, Phil. She's going home to-night if you'll drive her to Landisville."

"Won't I though!" he said, with the average High School boy's disregard of pure English. "Surest thing you know, Sis, I'll drive her home or anywhere else. What's she doing?"

"Helping Mother cut carpet rags."

"Well, that's the only redeeming feature about her. She does help Mother. Aunt Rebecca isn't lazy. I'm glad to be able to say one nice thing about her. Apart from that she's generally as Millie says, 'actin' like she ate wasps.' But she can't scare me. All her ranting goes in one ear and out the other."

"Nothing there to stop it, eh, Phil?"

"Amanda! That from you! Now I know how Caesar felt when he saw Brutus with the mob."

"It's a case of 'Cheer up, the worst is yet to come,' I suppose, so you might as well smile."

In this manner they bantered until they reached the Reist farmhouse. There the boy greeted the visitor politely, as his sister had done.

"My goodness," was the aunt's greeting to him, "you got an armful of books, too!"

"Yes. I'm going to be a lawyer, but I have to do a lot of hard studying before I get that far."

"Umph, that's nothin' to brag about. I'd think more of you if you stayed home and helped Amos plant corn and potatoes or tobacco."

"I'd never plant tobacco. Chewing and smoking are filthy habits and I'd never have the stuff grow on any farm I owned."

"But the money, Philip, just think once of the money tobacco brings! But, ach, it's for no use talkin' farm to you. You got nothin' but books in your head. How do you suppose this place is goin' to be run about ten years from now if Amanda teaches and you turn lawyer? Amos is soon too old to work it and you can't depend on hired help. Then what?"

"Search me," said the boy inelegantly. "But I'm not worrying about it. We may not want to live here ten years from now. But, Mother," he veered suddenly, "got any pie left from dinner? I'm hungry. May I forage?"

"Help yourself, Philip. There's a piece of cherry pie and a slice of chocolate cake in the cellar."

"Hurray, Mother! I'm going to see that you get an extra star in your crown some day for feeding the hungry."

"But you spoil him," said Aunt Rebecca as Phil went off to the cellar. "And if that boy ain't always after pie! I mind how he used to eat pie when he was little and you brought him to see us. Not that I grudged him the pie, but I remember how he always took two pieces if he got it. And pie ain't good for him, neither, between meals."

"I guess it won't hurt him," said Mrs. Reist; "the boy's growin' and he has just a lunch at noon, so he gets hungry till he walks in from the trolley. Boys like pie. His father was a great hand for pie."

"Well," said the aunt decisively, "I would never spoiled children if I had any. But I had none."

"Thank goodness!" Amanda breathed to herself as she went out to the porch to wait for her brother.

"Um, that pie was good," was his verdict as he joined her. "But say, Sis, didn't you hear the squirrels chatter in there?"

"Come on." Amanda laughed as she swung the basket to her arm and pulled eagerly at the sleeve of the boy's coat. "Let's go after the flowers and forget all about her."

Along the Crow Hill schoolhouse runs a long spur of wooded hills skirting the country road for a quarter of a mile and stretching away into denser timberland. In those woods were the familiar paths Amanda and Phil loved to traverse in search of flowers. In April, when the first warm, sunshiny days came, the ground under the dead leaves of the overshadowing oaks was carpeted with arbutus. Eager children soon found those near the crude rail fence, but Amanda and Phil followed the narrow trails to the secluded sheltered spots where the May flowers had not been touched that spring.

"No roots, Phil!" warned the girl as they knelt in the brown leaves and pushed away the covering from the fragrant blossoms.

"Sure thing not, Sis! We don't want to exterminate the trailing arbutus in Crow Hill. Say, I passed two kids this morning as I was going to the trolley. They had a bunch of arbutus, roots and all. Believe me, I acted up like Aunt Rebecca for about two minutes. But it's a shame to take the roots. I almost hate to pick the flowers--seems as if they're at home here in the woods--belong here, in a way."

"I know what you're thinking about, Phil; that little verse:

'Hast thou named all the birds without a gun?

Loved the wood-rose and left it on its stalk?

Oh, be my friend, and teach me to be thine.'

I agree with the first half of the requirement, but the latter half can't always be followed. At any rate, the wild rose is better left on the stem, for it withers when plucked. But with arbutus it's different. Why, Phil, some of the people who come to market and buy our wild flowers would never see any if they could not buy them in the city. Imagine, if you can, yourself living in a big city, far away from Crow Hill, where the Mayflowers grow--Philadelphia or New York, or some such formidable-sounding place. The city might engross your attention so you'd be happy for months. But along comes spring with its call to the woods and meadows. Still the city and its demands grip you like a vise, and you can't run away to where the wild green things are pushing to the light. Suppose you saw a flower-stand and a tiny bunch of arbutus--"

"I'd pay my last dollar for them!" declared Philip. "Guess you're right. According to your reasoning, we're as good as missionaries when we find wild flowers and take or send them to the city market to sell. Aunt Rebecca wouldn't see that. She'd see the money end of it. Poor soul! I'm glad I'm not like her."

"Pharisee," chided his sister.

"Well, do you know, Manda, sometimes I think there's something to be said in favor of the Pharisee."

The girl gave him a quizzical look.

The serious and the light were so strangely mingled in the boy's nature. Amanda caught many glimpses into the recesses of his heart, recesses he knew she would not try to explore deeper than he wished. For the natures of brother and sister were strongly similar--light-hearted and happy, laughing and gay, keen to enjoy life, but reading some part of its mysteries, understanding some of its sorrows and showing at times evidences of searching thought and grave retrospect.

"How many dollars' worth do we have?" the boy asked in imitation of Aunt Rebecca's mercenary way.

"Oh, Phil! You're dreadful! But I bet the flowers will be gone in no time when Millie puts them out."

"I'd wager they'd go faster if you sold them," he replied, looking admiringly at the girl. "You'd be a pretty fair peddler of flowers, Sis."

"Oh, Phil, be sensible."

"I mean it, Amanda. You're not so bad looking. Your hair isn't common red, it's Titian. And it's fluffy. Then your eyes are good and your complexion lacks the freckles you ought to have. Your nose isn't Grecian, but it'll do--we'll call it retroussé, for that sounds nicer than pug. And your mouth--well, it's not exactly a rosebud one, but it doesn't mar the general landscape like some mouths do. Altogether, you're real good-looking, even if you are my sister."

"Philip Reist, you're impertinent! But I suppose you are truthful. That's a doubtful compliment you're giving me, but I'm glad to say your veracity augurs well for your success as a lawyer. If you are always as honest as in that little speech you just delivered, you'll do."

"Oh, I'll make grand old Abe Lincoln look to his laurels."

And so, with comradely teasing, threaded with a more serious vein, an hour passed and the two returned home with their baskets filled with the lovely pink and white, delicately fragrant, trailing arbutus.

They found the supper ready, Uncle Amos washed and combed, and waiting on the back porch for the summons to the meal.

Mrs. Reist peeped into the basket and exclaimed in joy as she breathed in the sweet perfume of the fresh flowers. Millie paused in the act of pouring coffee into big blue cups to "get a sniff of the smell," but Aunt Rebecca was impatient at the momentary delay. "My goodness, but you poke around. I like to get the supper out before it gets cold."

There was no perceptible hurry at her words, but a few minutes later all were seated about the big table in the kitchen with a hearty supper spread before them.

Uncle Amos was of a jovial, teasing disposition, prone to occasional shrewd thrusts at the idiosyncrasies of his acquaintances, but he held sacred things sacred and rendered to reverent things their due reverence. It was his acknowledged privilege to say grace, at the meals served in the Reist home.

That April evening, after he said, "Amen," Philip turned to Amanda and said, "Polly wants some too."

The girl burst into gay laughter. Everybody at the table looked at her in surprise.

"What's funny?" asked Aunt Rebecca.

"I'll tell you," Phil offered. "Last Saturday we were back at Harnly's. They have two parrots on the porch, and all morning we tried to get those birds to talk. They just sat and blinked at us, looked wise, but said not a word. I forgot all about them when we went in to dinner, but we had just sat down and bowed our heads for grace when those birds began to talk. They went at it as though some person had wound them up. 'Polly wants some dinner; Polly wants some, too. Give Polly some too.' Well, it struck me funny. Their voices were so shrill and it was such a surprise after they refused to say a word, that I got to laughing. I gave Amanda a nudge, and she got the giggles."

"It was awful," said Amanda. "If Phil hadn't nudged me I could have weathered through by biting my lips."

"I don't see anything to laugh about when two parrots talk," was Aunt Rebecca's remark. "Anyhow, that was no time to laugh. I guess you'll remember what I tell you, some day when you got to cry for all this laughin' you do now."

"Ach," said the mother, "let 'em laugh. I guess we were that way too once."

"Bully for you, Mother," cried the boy; "you're as young as any of us."

"That's what," chimed in Millie.

"Oh, say, Millie," asked Philip, "did you make that cherry pie I finished up after school to-day?"

"Yes. Was it good?"

"Good? It melted in my mouth. When I marry, Millie, I'm going to borrow you for a while to come teach my wife how to make such pies."

"Listen at him now! Ain't it a wonder he wouldn't think to get a wife that knows how to cook and bake? But, Philip Reist, you needn't think I'll ever leave your mom unless she sends me off."

"Wouldn't you, now, Millie?" asked Uncle Amos.

"Why, be sure, not! I ain't forgettin' how nice she was to me a'ready. I had hard enough to make through before I came here to work. I had a place to live out in Readin' where I was to get big money, but when I got there I found I was to go in the back way always, even on Sunday, and was to eat alone in the kitchen after they eat, and I was to go to my room and not set with the folks at all. I just wouldn't live like that, so I come back to Lancaster County and heard about you people wantin' a girl, and here I am."

Amanda looked at the hired girl. In her calico dress and gingham apron, her hair combed back plain from her homely face, she was certainly not beautiful, and yet the girl who looked at her thought she appeared really attractive as the gratitude of her loyal heart shone on her countenance.

"Millie's a jewel," thought Amanda. "And Mother's another. I hope I shall be like them as I grow older."

After the supper dishes were washed, Aunt Rebecca decided it was time for her to go home.

"Wouldn't you like to go in the automobile this time?" suggested Philip. "It would go so much faster and is easier riding than the carriage."

"Faster! Well, I guess that horse of yourn can get me anywhere I want to go fast enough to suit me. I got no time for all these new-fangled things, like wagons that run without horses, and lights you put on and off with a button. It goes good if you don't get killed yet with that automobile."

"Then I'll hitch up Bill," said the boy as he went out, an amused smile on his face.

Amanda was thoughtful as she bunched the arbutus for the market next day. "I wonder how Uncle Jonas could live with Aunt Rebecca," she questioned. Ah, that was an enlightening test. "Am I an easy, pleasant person to live with?" Making full allowance for differences in temperament and dispositions, there was still, the girl thought, a possible compatibility that could be cultivated so that family life might be harmonious and happy.

"It's that I am going to consider when I get married, if I ever do," she decided that day. "I won't marry a man who would 'jaw' like Aunt Rebecca. I'm fiery-tempered myself, and I'll have to learn to control my anger better. Goodness knows I've had enough striking examples of how scolding sounds! But I won't want to squabble with the man I really care for--Martin Landis, for instance--" Her thoughts went off to her castles in Spain as she gathered the arbutus into little bunches and tied them. "He offered to help me fix my schoolroom for the Spelling Bee on Saturday. He's got a big heart, my Sir Galahad of childhood." She smiled as she thought of her burned hand and his innocent kiss. "Poor Martin--he's working like a man these ten years. I'd like to see him have a chance at education like Lyman Mertzheimer has. I know he'd accomplish something in the world then! At any rate, Martin's a gentleman and Lyman's a--ugh, I hate the very thought of him. I'm glad he's not at home to come to my Spelling Bee."

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