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   Chapter 18 No.18

Amanda: A Daughter of the Mennonites By Anna Balmer Myers Characters: 8351

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The Comforter

Amanda Reist knew the woods so well that she never felt any fear as she wandered about in them. That August morning as she climbed the fence by the school-yard and sauntered along the narrow paths between the trees she hummed a little song--not because of any particular happiness, but because the sky was blue and the woods were green and she loved to be outdoors.

She climbed the narrow trail, gathering early goldenrod, which she suddenly dropped, and stood still. Before her, a distance of about twenty feet, lay the figure of a man, face down on the ground, his arms flung out, his hair disheveled. A great fear rose in her heart. Was it a tramp, an intoxicated wanderer, was he dead? She shrank from the sight and took a few backward steps, feeling a strong impulse to run, yet held riveted to the spot by some inexplicable, irresistible force.

The figure moved slightly--why, it looked like Martin Landis! But he wouldn't be lying so in the grass at that time of day! The face of the man was suddenly turned to her and a cry came from her lips--it was Martin Landis! But what a Martin Landis! Haggard and lined, his face looked like the face of a debilitated old man.

"Martin," she called, anxiously. "Martin!"

He raised his head and leaned on his elbow. "Oh," he groaned, then turned his head away.

She ran to him then and knelt beside him in the grass. "What's wrong, Martin?" she asked, all the love in her heart rushing to meet the need of her "knight." "Tell me what's the matter."

"They say I'm a thief!"

"Who says so?" she demanded, a Xantippe-like flash in her eyes.

"The bank, they're examining the books, swooped down like a lot of vultures and hunting for carrion right now."

"For goodness' sake! Martin! Sit up and tell me about it! Don't cover your face as though you were a thief! Of course there's some mistake, there must be! Get up, tell me. Let's sit over on that old log and get it straightened out."

Spurred by her words he raised himself and she mechanically brushed the dry leaves from his coat as they walked to a fallen log and sat down.

"Now tell me," she urged, "the whole story."

Haltingly he told the tale, though the process hurt.

"And you ran away," she exclaimed when he had finished. "You didn't wait to see what the books revealed? You ran right out here?"

"Yes--no, I stopped at Isabel's."

"Oh"--Amanda closed her eyes a moment--it had been Isabel first again! She quickly composed herself to hear what the city girl had done in the man's hour of trial. "Isabel didn't believe it, of course?" she asked quietly.

"No, I suppose she didn't. But she cried and fussed and said my reputation was ruined for life and even if my innocence is proved I can never wholly live down such a reputation. She was worried because the thing may come out in the papers and her name brought into it. She's mighty much upset about Isabel Souders, didn't care a picayune about Martin Landis."

"She'll get over it," Amanda told him, a lighter feeling in her heart. "What we are concerned about now is Martin Landis. You should have stayed and seen it through, faced them and demanded the lie to be traced to its source. Why, Martin, cheer up, this can't harm you!"

"My reputation," he said gloomily.

"Yes, your reputation is what people think you are, but your character is what you really are. A noble character can often change a very questionable reputation. You know you are honest as the day is long--we are all sure of that, all who know you. Martin, nothing can hurt you! People can make you unhappy by such lies and cause the road to be a little harder to travel but no one except yourself can ever touch you! Your character is impregnable. Brace up! Go back and tell them it's a lie and then prove it!"

"Amanda"--the man's voice quavered. "Amanda, you're an angel! You make me buck up. When you found me I felt as though a load of bricks were thrown on my heart, but I'm beginning to see a glimmer of light. Of course, I can prove I'm innocent!"

"Listen, look!" Amanda whispered. She laid a hand upon his arm while she pointed with the other to a tree near by.

Ther

e sat an indigo bunting, that tiny bird of blue so intense that the very skies look pale beside it and among all the blue flowers of our land only the fringed gentian can rival it. With no attempt to hide his gorgeous self he perched in full view on a branch of the tree and began to sing in rapid notes. What the song lacked in sweetness was quite forgotten as they looked at the lovely visitant.

"There's your blue bunting of hope," said Amanda as the bird suddenly became silent as though he were out of breath or too tired to finish the melody.

"He's wonderful," said Martin, a light of hope once more in his eyes.

"Yes, he is wonderful, not only because of his fine color but because he's the one bird that sultry August weather can't still. When all others are silent he sings, halts a while, then sings again. That is why I said he is your blue bunting of hope. Isn't it like that with us? When other feelings are gone hope stays with us, never quite deserts us--hear him!"

True to his reputation the indigo bird burst once more into song, then off he flew, still singing his clear, rapid notes.

"Amanda," the man said as the blue wings carried the bird out of sight, "you've helped me--I can't tell you how much! I'm going back to the bank and face that lie. If I could only find out who started it!"

"I don't know, but I'd like to bet Mr. Mertzheimer is back of it, somehow. The old man is a heavy depositor there, isn't he?"

"Yes, but why under the sun would he say such a thing about me? I never liked Lyman and he had no love for me, but he has no cause to bear me ill will. I haven't anything he wants, I'm sure."

"No?" The girl bit her lip and felt her cheeks burn.

Martin looked at her, amazed. Why was she blushing? Surely, she didn't like Lyman Mertzheimer!

"Oh, Martin," she was thinking, "how blind you are! You do have something Lyman Mertzheimer wants. I can see through it all. He thinks with you disgraced I'll have eyes for him at last. The cheat! The cheat!" she said out loud.

"What?" asked Martin.

"He's a cheat, Lyman is. I hope he gets what's coming to him some day and I get a chance to see it! You see if that precious father of his is not at the bottom of all this worry for you!"

"It may be. I'm going in to Lancaster and find out. If he is, and if I ever get my hands on him---"

"Good-bye Lyman!" said Amanda, laughing. "But you wouldn't want to touch anything as low as he is."

"I'd hate to have the chance; I'd pound him to jelly."

"Oh, no, you wouldn't. You'd just look at him and he'd shrivel till he'd look like a dried crabapple snitz!"

Both laughed at the girl's words. A moment later they rose from the old log and walked down the path. When they had climbed the fence and stood in the hot, sunny road Martin said, "I guess I'll go home and get cleaned up." He rubbed a hand through his tumbled hair.

"And get something to eat," she added. "By that time you'll be ready, like Luther, to face a horde of devils."

"Thanks to you," he said. "I'll never forget this half-hour just gone. Your blue bunting of hope will be singing in my heart whenever things go wrong. You said a few things to me that I couldn't forget if I wanted to--for instance, that nothing, nobody, can hurt me, except myself. That's something to keep in mind. I feel equal to fight now, fight for my reputation. Some kind providence must have sent you up the hill to find me."

"Ach," she said depreciatively, "I didn't do a thing but steady you up a bit. I'm glad I happened to come up and see you. Go tell them if they're hunting for a thief they're looking in the wrong direction when they look at Martin Landis! Hurry! So you can get back before they think you've run away. I'll be so anxious to hear how much the Mertzheimers have to do with this. I can see their name written all over it!"

Smiling, almost happy again, the man turned down the road to his home and Amanda went on to the Reist farmhouse. She, too, was smiling as she went. She had read between the lines of the man's story and had seen there the moving finger writing above the name of Isabel Souders, "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin."

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