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Amanda: A Daughter of the Mennonites By Anna Balmer Myers Characters: 25166

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


"Martin's Girl"

If the securing of the coveted school, the assurance of the good will and support of the patrons and directors, and the love of the dear home folks was a combination of blessings ample enough to bring perfect happiness, then Amanda Reist should have been in that state during the long summer months of her vacation. But, after the perverseness of human nature, there was one thing lacking, only one--her knight, Martin Landis.

During the long, bright summer days Amanda worked on the farm, helped Millie faithfully, but she was never so busily occupied with manual labor that she did not take time now and then to sit idly under some tree and dream, adding new and wonderful turrets to her golden castles in Spain.

She remembered with a whimsical, wistful smile the pathetic Romance of the Swan's Nest and the musing of Little Ellie--

"I will have a lover,

Riding on a steed of steeds;

He shall love me without guile,

And to him I will discover

The swan's nest among the reeds.

"And the steed shall be red-roan,

And the lover shall be noble"--

and so on, into a rhapsody of the valor of her lover, such as only a romantic child could picture. But, alas! As the dream comes to the grand climax and Little Ellie, "Her smile not yet ended," goes to see what more eggs were with the two in the swan's nest, she finds,

"Lo, the wild swan had deserted,

And a rat had gnawed the reeds!"

Was it usually like that? Amanda wondered. Were reality and dreams never coincident? Was the romance of youth just a pretty bubble whose rainbow tints would soon be pierced and vanish into vapor? Castles in Spain--were they so ethereal that never by any chance could they--at least some semblance to them--be duplicated in reality?

"I'll hold on to my castles in Spain!" she cried to her heart. "I'll keep on hoping, I won't let go," she said, as though, like Jacob of old, she were wrestling for a blessing.

Many afternoons she brought her sewing to the front porch and sat there as Martin passed by on his way home from the day's work at Lancaster. His cordial, "Hello" was friendly enough but it afforded scant joy to the girl who knew that all his leisure hours were spent with the attractive Isabel Souders.

Martin was friendly enough, but that was handing her a stone when she wanted bread.

One June morning she was working in the yard as he went by on his way to the bank. A great bunch of his mother's pink spice roses was in his arm. He was earlier, too, than usual. Probably he was taking the flowers to Isabel.

"Hello," he called to the girl. "You're almost a stranger, Amanda."

He was not close enough to see the tremble of her lips as she called back, "Not quite, I hope."

"Well, Mother said this morning that she has not seen you for several weeks. You used to come down to play with the babies but now your visits are few and far between. Mother said she misses you, Amanda. Why don't you run down to see her when you have time?"

"All right, Martin, I will. It is some time since I've had a good visit with your mother. I'll be down soon."

"Do, she'll be glad," he said and went down the road to the trolley.

"Almost a stranger," mused the girl after he was gone. Then she thought of the old maid who had answered a query thus, "Why ain't I married? Goodness knows, it ain't my fault!" Amanda's saving sense of humor came to her rescue and banished the tears.

"Guess I'll run over to see Mrs. Landis a while this afternoon. It is a long time since I've been there. I do enjoy being with her. She's such a cheerful person. The work and noise of nine children doesn't bother her a bit. I don't believe she knows what nerves are."

That afternoon Amanda walked down the country road, past the Crow Hill schoolhouse, to the Landis farm. As she came to the barn-yard she heard Emma, the youngest Landis child, crying and an older boy chiding, "Ah, you big baby! Crying about a pinched finger! Can't you act like a soldier?"

"But girls--don't be soldiers," said the hurt child, sobbing in childish pain.

Amanda appeared on the scene and went to the grassy slope of the big bank barn. There she drew the little girl to her and began to comfort her. "Here, let Amanda kiss the finger."

"It hurts, it hurts awful, Manda," sniffed the child.

"I know it hurts. A pinched finger hurts a whole lot. You just cry a while and by that time it will stop hurting." She began to croon to the child the words of an old rhyme she had picked up somewhere long ago:

"Hurt your finger, little lassie?

Just you cry a while!

For some day your heart will hurt

And then you'll have to smile.

Time enough to be a stoic

In the coming years;

Blessed are the days when pain

Is washed away by tears."

By the time the verse was ended the child's attention had been diverted from the finger to the song and the smiles came back to the little face.

"Now," said Amanda, "we'll bathe it in the water at the trough and it will be entirely well."

"And it won't turn into a pig's foot?"

"Mercy, no!"

"Charlie said it would if I didn't stop cryin'."

"But you stopped crying, you know, before it could do that. Charlie'll pump water and we'll wash all nice and clean and go in to Mother."

Water from the watering trough in the barn-yard soon effaced the traces of tears and a happy trio entered the big yard near the house. An older boy and Katie Landis came running to meet them.

"Oh, Amanda," said Katie, "did you come once! Just at a good time, too! We're gettin' company for supper and Mom was wishin' you'd come so she could ask you about settin' the table. We're goin' to eat in the room to-night,'stead of the kitchen like we do other times. And we're goin' to have all the good dishes and things out and a bouquet in the middle of the table when we eat! Ain't that grand? But Pop, he told Mom this morning that if it's as hot to-night as it was this dinner he won't wear no coat to eat, not even if the Queen of Sheba comes to our place for a meal! But I guess he only said that for fun, because, ain't, the Queen of Sheba was the one in the Bible that came to visit Solomon?"

"Yes."

"Well, she ain't comin' to us, anyhow. It's that Isabel from Lancaster, Martin's girl, that's comin'."

"Oh!" Amanda halted on her way across the lawn. "What time is she coming?" she asked in panicky way, as though she would flee before the visitor arrived.

"Ach, not for long yet! We don't eat till after five. Martin brings her on the trolley with him when he comes home from the bank."

"Then I'll go in to see your mother a while." A great uneasiness clutched at the girl's heart. Why had she come on that day?

But Mrs. Landis was glad to see her. "Well, Amanda," she called through the kitchen screen, "you're just the person I said I wished would come. Come right in.

"Come in the room a while where it's cool," she invited as Amanda and several of the children entered the kitchen. "I'm hot through and through! I just got a short cake mixed and in the stove. Now I got nothin' special to do till it's done. I make the old kind yet, the biscuit dough. Does your mom, too?"

"Yes."

"Ach, it's better, too, than this sweet kind some people make. I split it and put a lot of strawberries on it and we eat it with cream."

"Um, Mom," said little Charlie, "you make my mouth water still when you talk about good things like that. I wish it was supper-time a'ready."

"And you lookin' like that!" laughed the mother, pointing to his bare brown legs and feet and his suit that bore evidence of accidental meetings with grass and ground.

"Did they tell you, Amanda," she went on placidly, as she rocked and fanned herself with a huge palm-leaf fan, "that we're gettin' company for supper?"

"Yes--Isabel."

"Yes. Martin, he goes in to see her at Lancaster real often and he's all the time talkin' about her and wantin' we should meet her. She has him to supper--ach, they call it dinner--but it's what they eat in the evening. I just said to his pop we'll ask her out here to see us once and find out what for girl she is. From what Martin says she's a little tony and got money and lots of fine things. You know Martin is the kind can suit himself to most any kind of people. He can make after every place he goes, even if they do put on style. So mebbe she thinks Martin's from tony people, too. But when she comes here she can see that we're just plain country people. I don't put no airs on, but I did say I'd like to have things nice so that she can't laugh at us, for I'd pity Martin if she did that. Mebbe you know how to set the things on the table a little more like they do now. It's so long since I ate any place tony. I said we'd eat in the room, too, and not in the kitchen. We always eat in the kitchen for it's big and handy and nice and cool with all the doors and windows open. But I'll carry things in the room to-night. It will please Martin if we have things nice for his girl."

"Um-huh, Martin's got a girl!" sang Charlie gleefully.

"Yes," spoke up Johnny, a little older and wiser than Charlie. "I know he's got a girl. He's got a big book in his room and I seen him once look in it and pick up something out of it and look at it like it was something worth a whole lot. I sneaked in after he went off and what d'you think it was? Nothing at all but one of them pink lady-slippers we find in the woods near the schoolhouse! He pressed it in that book and acted like it was something precious, so I guess his girl give it to him."

Amanda remembered the pink lady-slipper. She had seen Isabel give it to Martin that spring day when the city girl's glowing face had smiled over the pink azaleas, straight into the eyes of the country boy.

"Charlie," chided Mrs. Landis, "don't you be pokin' round in Martin's room. And don't you tell him what you saw. He'd be awful put out. He don't like to be teased. Ach, my," she shook her head and smiled to Amanda, "with so many children it makes sometimes when they all get talkin' and cuttin' up or scrappin'."

"But it's a lively, merry place. I always like to come here."

"Do you, now? Well, I like to have you. I often say to Martin that you're like a streak of sunshine comin' on a winter day, always so happy and full of fun, it does abody good to have you around. Ach"--in answer to a whisper from the six-year-old baby, "yes, well, go take a few cookies. Only put the lid on the crock tight again so the cookies will keep fresh. Now I guess I better look after my short cake once. Mister likes everything baked brown. Then I guess we'll set the table if you don't mind tellin' me a little how."

"I'll be glad to."

While Mrs. Landis went up-stairs to get her very best table-cloth Amanda looked about the room with its plain country furnishings, its hominess and yet utter lack of real artistry in decoration. Her heart rebelled. What business had a girl like Isabel Souders to enter a family like the Landis's? She'd like to bet that the city girl would disdain the dining-room with its haircloth sofa along one wall and its organ in one corner, its quaint, silk-draped mantel where two vases of Pampas grass hobnobbed with an antique pink and white teapot and two pewter plates; its lack of buffet or fashionable china closet, its old, low-backed, cane-seated walnut chairs round a table, long of necessity to hold plates for so large a family.

"Here it is, the finest one I got. That's one I got yet when I went housekeepin'. I don't use it often, it's a little long for the kitchen table." Mrs. Landis proudly exhibited her old linen table-cloth. "Now then, take hold."

In a few minutes the cloth was spread upon the table and the best dishes brought from a closet built into the kitchen wall.

"How many plates?" asked Amanda.

"Why, let's count once. Eleven of us and Isabel makes twelve and--won't you stay, too, Amanda?"

"Oh, no! I'd make thirteen," she said, laughing.

"Ach, I don't believe in that unlucky business. You can just as well stay and have a good time with us. You know Isabel."

"Yes, I know her. But really, I can't stay. I must get home early. Some other time I'll stay."

"All right, then, but I'd like it if you could be here."

"I'll put twelve plates on the table."

"What I don't know about is the napkins, Amanda. We used to roll them up and put them in the tumblers and then some people folded them in triangles and laid them on the plates, but I don't know if that's right now. Mine are just folded square."

"That's right. I'll place them to the side, so. And the forks go here and the knives and spoons to this side."

"Well, don't it beat all? They lay the spoons on the table now? What for is the spoon-holder?"

"Gone out of style."

"Well, that's funny. I guess when our Mary gets a little older once, she'll want to fix things up, too. I don't care if she does, so long as she don't want to do dumb things and put on a lot of airs that ain't fittin' to plain people like us. But it'll be a big wonder to me if one of the children won't say something about the spoons bein' on the table-cloth. That's new to them. Then I need three glass dishes for jelly so none will have to reach so far for it. And a big platter for fried ham, a pitcher for the gravy, a dish for smashed potatoes, one for sweet potatoes, a glass one for cabbage slaw and I guess I ought to put desserts out for the slaw, Amanda. I hate when gravy and everything gets mixed on the plate. Then I'm going to have some new peas and sour red beets and the short cake. I guess that's enough."

"It sounds like real Lancaster County food," said the girl. "Your company should enjoy her supper."

"Ach, I guess she will. Now I must call in some of the children and get them started dressin' once."

She stood at the screen door of the kitchen and rang a small hand bell. Its tintinnabulation sounded through the yard and reached the ears of the children who were playing there. The three boys next in age to Martin were helping their father in the fields, but the other children came running at the sound of the bell.

"Time to get dressed," announced Mrs. Landis. "You all stay round here now so I can call you easy as one gets done washin'. Johnny, you take Charlie and the two of you get washed and put on the clothes I laid on your bed. Then you stay on the porch so you don't get dirty again till supper and the company comes. Be sure to wash your feet and legs right before you put on your stockings."

"Aw, stockings!" growled Charlie. "Why can't we stay barefooty?"

"For company?"

"Ach," he said sulkily as he walked to the stairs, "I don't like the kind of company you got to put stockings on for! Not on week-days, anyhow!"

His mother laughed. "Emma," she addressed one of the girls, "when the boys come back you and Mary and Katie must get washed and dressed for the company. Mary, you dare wear your blue hair-ribbons today and the girls can put their pink ones on and their white dresses."

"Oh," the little girls cried happily. Dressing up for company held more pleasure for them than it did for the boys.

"I laugh still," said Mrs. Landis, "when people say what a lot of work so many children make. In many ways, like sewing and cookin' for them they do, but in other ways they are a big help to me and to each other. If I had just one now I'd have to dress it, but with so many they help the littler ones and all I got to do is tell them what to do. It don't hurt them to work a little. Mary is big enough now to put a big apron on and help me with gettin' meals ready. And the boys are good about helpin' me, too. Why, Martin, now, he used to help me like a girl when the babies were little and I had a lot to do. Mister said the other day we dare be glad our boys ain't give us no trouble so far. But this girl of Martin's, now, she kinda worries me. I said to Mister if only he'd pick out a girl like you."

To her surprise the face of the girl blanched. Mrs. Landis thought in dismay, "Now what for dumb block am I, not to guess that mebbe Amanda likes our Martin! Ach, my! but it spites me that he's gone on that city girl! Well," she went on, talking in an effort at reparation and in seeming ignorance of the secret upon which she had stumbled, "mebbe he ain't goin' to marry her after all. These boys sometimes run after such bright, merry butterfly girls and then they get tired of them and pick out a nice sensible one to marry. Abody must just keep on hopin' that everything will turn out right. Anyhow, I don't let myself worry much about it."

"Do you ever worry, Mrs. Landis? I can't remember ever seeing you worried and borrowing trouble."

"No, what's the use? I found out long ago that worry don't get you nowhere except in hot water, so what's the use of it?"

"That's a good way to look at things if you can do it," the girl agreed. "I think I'll go home now. You don't need me. You'll get along nicely, I'm sure."

"Ach, yes, I guess so. But now you must come soon again, Amanda. This company business kinda spoiled your visit to-day."

Amanda was in the rear of the house and did not see the vision of loveliness which passed the Reist farmhouse about five o'clock that afternoon. One of Martin's brothers met the two at the trolley and drove them to the Landis farm. Isabel Souders was that day, indeed, attractive. She wore a corn-colored organdie dress and leghorn hat, her natural beauty was enhanced by a becoming coiffure, her eyes danced, her lips curved in their most bewitching bow.

The visitor was effusive in her meeting with Martin's mother. "Dear Mrs. Landis," she gushed, "it is so lovely of you to have me here! Last summer while I boarded at Reists' I was so sorry not to meet you! Of course I met Martin and some of the younger children but the mother is always the most adorable one of the family! Oh, come here, dear, you darling," she cooed to little Emma, who had tiptoed into the room. But Emma held to her mother's apron and refused to move.

"Ach, Emma," Katie, a little older, chided her. "You'll run a mile to Amanda Reist if you see her. Don't act so simple! Talk to the lady; she's our company."

"Ach, she's bashful all of a sudden," said Mrs. Landis, smiling. "Now, Miss Souders, you take your hat off and just make yourself at home while I finish gettin' the supper ready. You dare look through them albums in the front room or set on the front porch. Just make yourself at home now."

"Thank you, how lovely!" came the sweet reply.

A little while later when Martin left her and went to his room to prepare for the evening meal the children, too, scurried away one by one and left Isabel alone. She took swift inventory of the furnishings of the front room.

"Dear," she thought, "what atrocious taste! How can Martin live here? How can he belong to a family like this?"

But later she was all smiles again as Martin joined her and Mrs. Landis brought her husband into the room to meet the guest. Mr. Landis had, in spite of protests and murmurings, been persuaded to hearken to the advice of his wife and wear a coat. Likewise the older boys had followed Martin's example and donned the hot woolen articles of dress they considered superfluous in the house during the summer days.

Isabel chattered gaily to the men of the Landis household until Mrs. Landis stood in the doorway and announced, "Come now, folks, supper's done."

After the twelve were seated about the big table, Mr. Landis said grace and then Mrs. Landis rose to pour the coffee, several of the boys started to pass the platters and dishes around the table and the evening meal on the farm was in full swing.

"Oh," piped out little Charlie as he lifted his plate for a slice of ham, "somebody's went and threw all the spoons on the table-cloth! Here's two by my plate. And Emma's got some by her place, too!"

"Sh!" warned Mary, but Mrs. Landis laughed heartily. "Easy seeing," she confessed, "that we ain't used to puttin' on style. Charlie, that's the latest way of puttin' spoons on. Amanda Reist did it for me."

"Amanda Reist," said Mr. Landis. "Why didn't she stay for supper if she was here when you set the table?"

"I asked her to but she couldn't."

"Oh," the guest said, "I think Amanda is the sweetest girl. I just love her!"

"Me, too," added Mary. "She's my teacher."

"Mine too," said Katie. "I like her."

The Landis children were taught politeness according to the standards of their parents, but they had never been told that they should be seen and not heard. Meal-time at the Landis farm was not a quiet time. The children were encouraged to repeat any interesting happening of the day and there was much laughter and genial conversation and frank expressions about the taste of the food.

"Um, ain't that short cake good!" said Charlie, smacking his lips.

"Delicious, lovely!" agreed the guest.

"Here, have another piece," urged Mrs. Landis. "I always make enough for two times around."

"Mom takes care of us, all right," testified Mr. Landis.

"Lovely, I'm sure," Isabel said with a bright smile.

And so the dinner hour sped and at length all rose and Martin, tagged by two of the younger boys, showed Isabel the garden and yard, while Mrs. Landis with the aid of Mary and one of the boys cleared off and washed the dishes. Then the entire family gathered on the big porch and the time passed so quickly in the soft June night that the guest declared it had seemed like a mere minute.

"This is the most lovely, adorable family," she told them. "I've had a wonderful time. How I hate to go back to the noisy city! How I envy you this lovely porch on such nights!"

Later, when Martin returned from seeing the visitor back to Lancaster, his parents were sitting alone on the porch.

"Well, Mother, Dad, what do you think of her?" he asked in his boyish eagerness to have their opinion of the girl he thought he was beginning to care for. "Isn't she nice?"

"Seems like a very nice girl," said his mother with measured enthusiasm.

"Oh, Mother," was the boy's impatient answer, "of course you wouldn't think any girl was good enough for your boy! I can see that. If an angel from heaven came down after me you'd find flaws in her."

"Easy, Mart," cautioned the father. "Better put on the brakes a bit. Your mom and I think about the same, I guess, that the girl's a likely enough lady and she surely is easy to look at, but she ain't what we'd pick out for you if we had the say. It's like some of these here fancy ridin' horses people buy. They're all right for ridin' but no good for hitchin' to a plow. You don't just want a wife that you can play around with and dress pretty and amuse yourself with. You need a wife that'll work with you and be a partner and not fail you when trouble comes. Think that over, Mart."

"Gosh, you talk as though I had asked her to marry me. We are just good friends. I enjoy visiting her and hearing her play."

"Yes, Martin, I know, but life ain't all piano playin' after you get married, is it, Mom?"

Mrs. Landis laughed. "No, it's often other kinds of music! But I'm not sorry I'm married." "Me neither," confirmed her husband. "And that, Mart, is what you want to watch for when you pick a wife. Pick one so that after you been livin' together thirty years you can both say you're not sorry you married. That's the test!"

"Oh, some test!" the boy said drearily. "I--I guess you're right, both of you. I guess it isn't a thing to rush into. But you don't know Isabel. She's really a lovely, sweet girl."

"Of course she is," said his mother. "You just hold on to her and go see her as often as you like. Perhaps when you've been at the bank a while longer and can afford to get married you'll find she's the very one you want. Any one you pick we'll like."

"Yes, of course, yes," said Mr. Landis. Wise parents! They knew that direct opposition to the choice of the son would frustrate their hopes for him. Let him go on seeing the butterfly and perhaps the sooner he'd outgrow her charms, they thought.

But later, as Mr. Landis unlaced his shoes and his wife took off her white Mennonite cap and combed her hair for the night, that mild man sputtered and stormed. All the gentle acquiescence was fallen from him. "That empty-headed doll has got our Mart just wrapped round her finger! All she can say is 'Delicious, lovely, darling!'"

Mrs. Landis laughed at his imitation of the affected Isabel.

"Good guns, Mom, if any of our boys tie up with a doll like that it'll break our hearts. Why couldn't Mart pick a sensible girl that can cook and ain't too tony nor lazy to do it? A girl like Amanda Reist, now, would be more suited to him. Poor Mart, he's bamboozled if he gets this one! But if we told him that he'd be so mad he'd run to-morrow and marry her. We got to be a little careful, I guess."

"Ach, yes, he'll get over it. He's a whole lot like you and I don't believe he'd marry a girl like that."

"Well, let's hope he shows as good taste when he picks a wife as I did, ain't, Mom?"

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