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Amanda: A Daughter of the Mennonites By Anna Balmer Myers Characters: 15772

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The Spelling Bee

The old-fashioned Spelling Bee has never wholly died out in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Each year readers of certain small-town papers will find numerous news-titles headed something like this: "The Bees Will Buzz," and under them an urgent invitation to attend a Spelling Bee at a certain rural schoolhouse. "A Good Time Promised"--"Classes for All"--"Come One, Come All"--the advertisements never fail. Many persons walk or ride to the little schoolhouse. The narrow seats, the benches along the wall, and all extra chairs that can be brought to the place are taken long before the hour set for the bees to buzz. The munificent charge is generally fifteen cents, and where in this whole United States of America can so much real enjoyment be secured for fifteen cents as is given at an old-fashioned Spelling Bee?

That April evening of Amanda's Bee the Crow Hill schoolhouse was filled at an early hour. The scholars, splendid in their Sunday clothes, occupied front seats. Parents, friends and interested visitors from near-by towns crowded into the room.

Amanda, dressed in white, came upon the platform and announced that the scholars had prepared a simple program which would be interspersed through the spelling classes.

Vehement clapping of hands greeted her words and then the audience became silent as the littlest scholar of the school rose and delivered the address of welcome. There followed music and more recitations, all amateurish, but they brought feelings of pride to many mothers and fathers who listened, smiling, to "Our John" or "Our Mary" do his or her best.

But the real excitement began with the spelling classes. The first was open to all children under fourteen. At the invitation, boys and girls walked bravely to the front and joined the line till it reached from one side of the room to the opposite. A teacher from a neighboring town gave out the words. The weeding-out process soon began. Some fell down on simple words, others handled difficult ones with ease and spelled glibly through some which many of the older people present had forgotten existed. Soon the class narrowed down to two. Back and forth, back and forth the words rolled until the teacher pronounced one of the old standby catch-words. One of the contestants shook his head, puzzled, and surrendered.

There was more music, several recitations by the children, a spelling class for older people, more music, then a General Information class, whose participants were asked such questions as, "Who is State Superintendent of Schools?" "How many legs has a fly?" "How many teeth has a cow?" "Which color is at the top of the rainbow arch?" The amazed, puzzled expressions on the faces of the questioned afforded much merriment for the others. It was frequently necessary to wait a moment until the laughter was suppressed before other questions could be asked.

A geographical class was equally interesting. "How many counties has Pennsylvania?" sent five persons to their seats before it was answered correctly. Others succeeded in locating such queer names as Popocatepetl, Martinique, Ashtabula, Rhodesia, Orkney, Comanche.

A little later the last spelling class was held. It was open to everybody. The line was already stretched across the schoolroom when Lyman Mertzheimer, home for a few days of vacation, entered the schoolhouse.

"Oh, dear," thought Amanda, "what does he want here? I'd rather do without his fifteen cents! He expects to make a show and win the prize from every one else."

Lyman, indeed, swaggered down the room and entered the line, bearing the old air of superiority. "I'll show them how to spell," he thought as he took his place. Spelling had been his strong forte in the old days of school, and it was soon evident that he retained his former ability. The letters of the most confusing words fell from his lips as though the very pages of the spelling-book were engraved upon his brain. He held his place until the contest had ruled out all but two beside himself. Then he looked smilingly at Amanda and reared his head in new dignity and determination.

"Stelliform, the shape of a star," submitted the teacher. The word fell to Lyman. He was visibly hesitant. Was it stelli or stella?

Bringing his knowledge of Latin into service, he was inclined to think it was stella. He began, "S-t-e-l-l--"

He looked uncertainly at one of his friends who was seated in the front seat. He, also, was a champion speller.

"Oh, if Joe would only help me!" thought the speller.

As if telepathy were possible, Joe raised the forefinger of his left hand to his eye, looked at Lyman with a meaning glance that told him what he craved to know.

"Iform," finished Lyman in sure tones.

"Correct."

"That was clever of Joe," thought the cheat as the teacher gave out a word to one of the three contestants. "I just caught his sign in time. Nobody noticed it."

But he reckoned without the observant teacher of Crow Hill school. Amanda, seated in the front of the room and placed so she half faced the audience and with one little turn of her head could view the spellers, had seen the cheating process and understood its significance. The same trick had been attempted by some of her pupils several times during the monthly spelling tests she held for the training of her classes.

"The cheat! The big cheat!" she thought, her face flushing with anger. "How I hope he falls down on the next word he gets!"

However, the punishment he deserved was not meted out to him. Lyman Mertzheimer outspelled his opponents and stood alone on the platform, a smiling victor.

"The cheat! The contemptible cheat!" hammered in Amanda's brain.

After the distribution of prizes, cheap reprint editions of well-known books, an auctioneer stepped on the platform and drew from a corner a bushel basket of packages of various sizes and shapes.

"Oyez, Oyez," he called in true auctioneer style, "we have here a bushel of good things, all to be sold, sight unseen, to the highest bidder. I understand each package contains something good to eat, packed and contributed by the pupils of this school. The proceeds of the sale are to be used to purchase good books for the school library for the pupils to read. So, folks, bid lively and don't be afraid to run a little risk. You'll get more fun from the package you buy than you've had for a long time, I'll warrant."

With much talk and gesticulation the spirited bidding was kept up until every package was sold. Shouts of joy came from the. country boys when one opened a box filled with ten candy suckers and distributed them among the crowd. Other bidders won candy, cake, sandwiches, and loud was the laughter when a shoe-box was sold for a dollar, opened and found to contain a dozen raw sweet potatoes.

After the fun of the auction had died down all rose and sang "The Star-Spangled Banner," and the Spelling Bee was over.

The audience soon began to leave. Laughing girls and boys started down the dark country roads. Carriages and automobiles carried many away until a mere handful of people were left in the little schoolhouse.

Lyman Mertzheimer lingered. He approached Amanda, exchanged greetings with her and asked, "May I walk home with you? I have something to tell you."

"Oh, I suppose so," she replied, not very graciously. The dishonest method of gaining a prize still rankled in her. Lyman walked about the room impatiently, looking idly at the drawings and other work of the children displayed above the blackboards.

A moment later Martin Landis came up to Amanda. He had been setting chairs in their places, gathering singing-books and putting the room in order.

"Well, Manda," he said, "it was a grand success! Everything went off fine, lots of fun for all. And I heard Hershey, the director, tell his wife that you certainly kn

ow how to conduct a Spelling Bee."

"Oh, did he say that?" The news pleased her. "But I'm glad it's over."

"I guess you are. There, we're all fixed up now. I'll send one of the boys over next week with the team to take back the borrowed chairs. I'll walk home with you, Manda. What's Lyman Mertzheimer hanging around for? Soon as those people by the door leave, we can lock up and go."

"Why--Martin--thank you--but Lyman asked to walk home with me."

"Oh! All right," came the calm reply. "I'll see you again. Good-night, Amanda."

"Good-night, Martin."

She looked after him as he walked away, the plumed knight of her castles in Spain. She had knighted him that day long ago when he had put out the fire and kissed her hand, and during the interval of years that childish affection had grown in her heart. In her thoughts he was still "My Martin." But the object of that long-abiding affection showed all too plainly that he was not cognizant of what was in the heart of his childhood's friend. To him she was still "Just Amanda," good comrade, sincere friend.

Fortunately love and hope are inseparable. Amanda thought frequently of the verse, "God above is great to grant as mighty to make, and creates the love to reward the love." It was not always so, she knew, but she hoped it would be so for her. Martin Landis, unselfish, devoted to his people, honest as a dollar, true as steel--dear Martin, how she wanted to walk home with him that night of the Spelling Bee instead of going with Lyman Mertzheimer!

The voice of the latter roused her from her revery. "I say, Amanda, are we going to stay here all night? Why in thunder can't those fools go home so you can lock the door and go! And I say, Amanda, don't you think Martin Landis is letting himself grow shabby and seedy? He's certainly settling into a regular clodhopper. He shuffled along like a hecker to-night. I don't believe he ever has his clothes pressed."

"Martin's tired to-night," she defended, her eyes flashing fire. "He worked in the fields all day, helping his father. Then he and one of his brothers took their team and went after some chairs I wanted to borrow for the Spelling Bee. They arranged the room for me, too."

"Oh, I see. Poor fellow! It must be the very devil to be poor!"

The words angered the girl. "Well," she flared out, "if you want to talk about Martin Landis, you go home. I'll get home without you."

"Now, Amanda," he pleaded sweetly, "don't get huffy, please! I want you in a good humor. I have something great to tell you. Can't you take a bit of joshing? Of course, it's fine in you to defend your old friends. But I didn't really mean to say anything mean about Martin. You do get hot so easily."

"It must be my red-hair-temper," she said, laughing. "I do fly off the handle, as Phil says, far too soon."

"Shall we go now?" Lyman asked as the last lingering visitors left the room.

The lights were put out, the schoolhouse door locked, and Amanda and Lyman started off on the dark country road. Peals of merry laughter floated back to them occasionally from a gay crowd of young people who were also going home from the Spelling Bee. But there were none near enough to hear what most wonderful thing Lyman had to say to Amanda.

"Amanda," he lost no time in broaching the subject, "I said I have something to tell you. I meant, to ask you."

"Yes? What is it?"

"Will you marry me?"

Before the astonished girl could answer, he put his arms about her and drew her near, as though there could be no possibility of an unfavorable reply.

She flung away from him, indignant. "Lyman," she said, with hot anger in her voice, "you better wait once till I say yes before you try that!"

"Why, Amanda! Now, sweetheart, none of that temper! You can't get cross when I ask you anything like that! I want to marry you. I've always wanted it. I picked you for my sweetheart when we were both children. I've always thought you're the dandiest girl I could find. Ever since we were kids I've planned of the time when we were old enough to marry. I just thought to-night, when I saw several fellows looking at you as though they'd like to have you, I better get busy and ask you before some other chap turns your head. I'll be good to you and treat you right, Amanda. Of course, I'm in college yet, but I'll soon be through, and then I expect to get a good position, probably in some big city. We'll get out of this slow country section and live where there's some life and excitement. You know I'll be rich some day, and then you'll have everything you want. Come on, honey, tell me, are we engaged?"

"Well, I should say not!" the girl returned with cruel frankness. "You talk as though I were a piece of furniture you could just walk into a store and select and buy and then own! You've been taking immeasurably much for granted if you have been thinking all those things you just spoke about."

"But what don't you like about me?" The young man was unable to grasp the fact that his loyal love could be unrequited. "I'm decent."

"Well, that's very important, but there's more than that necessary when two persons think of marrying. You asked me,--I'll tell you--I never cared for you. I don't like your principles, your way of sneering at poor people, your laxity in many things--"

"For instance?" he asked.

"For instance: the way you spelled stelliform to-night and won a prize for it."

"Oh, that!" He laughed as though discovered in a huge joke. "Did you see that? Why, that was nothing. It was only a cheap book I got for the prize. I'll give the book back to you if that will square me in your eyes."

"But don't you see, can't you see, it wasn't the cheap book that mattered? It's the thought that you'd be dishonest, a cheat."

"Well," he snatched at the least straw, "here's your chance to reform me. If you marry me I'll be a different person. I'd do anything for you. You know love is a great miracle worker. Won't you give me a chance to show you how nearly I can live up to your standards and ideals?"

Amanda, moved by woman's quick compassion, spurred by sympathy, and feeling the exaltation such an appeal always carries, felt her heart soften toward the man beside her. But her innate wisdom and her own strong hold on her emotions prevented her from doing any rash or foolish thing. Her voice was gentle as she answered, but there was a finality in it that the man should have noted.

"I'm sorry, Lyman, but I can't do as you say. We can't will whom we will love. I know you and I would never be happy together."

"But perhaps it will come to you." He was no easy loser. "I'll just keep on hoping that some day you'll care for me."

"Don't do that. I'm positive, sure, that I'll never love you. You and I were never made for each other."

But he refused to accept her answer as final. "Who knows, Amanda," he said lightly, yet with all the feeling he was capable of at that time, "perhaps you'll love and marry Lyman Mertzheimer yet! Stranger things than that have happened. I'm sorry about that word. It seemed just like a good joke to catch on to the right spelling that way and beat the others in the match. You are too strict, Amanda, too closely bound by the Lancaster County ideas of right and wrong. They are too narrow for these days."

"Oh, no!" she said quickly. "Dishonesty is never right!"

"Well," he laughed, "have it your way! See how docile I have become already! You'll reform me yet, I bet!"

At the door of her home he bade her good-night and went off whistling, feeling only a slight unhappiness at her refusal to marry him. It was, he felt, but a temporary rebuff. She would capitulate some day. His consummate egotism buoyed his spirits and he went down the road dreaming of the day he'd marry Amanda Reist and of the wonderful gowns and jewels he would lavish upon her.

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