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   Chapter 21 No.21

Amanda: A Daughter of the Mennonites By Anna Balmer Myers Characters: 13340

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Berrying

The next morning Amanda helped her mother with the Saturday baking while Millie and Uncle Amos tended market.

"This hot weather the pies get soft till Sunday if we bake them a'ready on Friday," Mrs. Reist said to Millie, "so Amanda and I can do the bakin' while you go to market. I guess we'll have a lot of company again this Sunday, with church near here."

"All right, let 'em come," said the hired girl composedly. "I don't care if you don't. It's a good thing we all like company pretty good, for I think sometimes people take this place for a regular boarding-house, the way they drop in at any time, just as like when we're ready to set down for a meal as at any other hour. Philip said last week, when that Sallie Snyder dropped in just at dinner, that he's goin' to paint a sign, 'Mad Dog,' and hang it on the gate. But I think we might as well put one up, 'Meals served at all hours,' but ach, that's Lancaster County for you!"

Mrs. Reist liked to do her baking early in the day. So it happened that when Martin Landis stopped in to see Amanda before he went to his work in the city he saw on the kitchen table a long row of pies ready for the oven and Amanda deftly rolling the edge of another.

"Whew!" he whistled. "Mrs. Reist, is that your work or Amanda's so early in the morning?"

"Amanda's! My granny used to say still that no girl was ready to get married till she could roll out a thin pie dough. I guess my girl is almost ready, for she got hers nice and thin this morning. Ach," she thought in dismay as she saw the girl's face flush, "now why did I say that? I didn't think how it would sound. But Amanda needn't mind Martin!"

Merry little twinkles played around Martin's gray eyes as he answered, "I see. Looks as if Amanda's ready for a husband--if she's going to feed him on pies!"

"On pies--Martin Landis!" scorned the girl. "I'd have a dyspeptic on my hands after a few days of pie diet."

"Well, you'd make a pretty good nurse, I believe."

"Nurse--not me! The only thing I know how to nurse is hurt birds and lame bunnies and such things. You just lay them in a box and feed them, and if they get well you clap your hands, and if they die you put some leaves and flowers on them and bury them out in the woods--remember how we used to do that?"

"Do I? I should say I do! The time we had the fence hackey that Lyman Mertzheimer hurt with a stone--"

"Oh, and I nursed him and fed him, and when I let him go he bit my finger! I remember that! I was so cross at him I cried."

"Wretch that he was," said Martin. "But if we begin talking about those days I won't get to work. I stopped in to ask you to go berrying with us this afternoon. I get out of the bank early. We can go up to the woods back of the schoolhouse. The youngsters are anxious to go, and Mother won't let them go alone, since that copperhead was killed near here. I promised to take them, and we'd all like to have you come."

"I'd love to go. I'll be all ready. I haven't gone for blackberries all season."

"That's true, we've been missing lots of fun." He looked at her as though he were seeing her after a long absence. Somehow, he had missed something worth while from his life during the time his head had been turned by Isabel, and he had passed Amanda with a smile and a greeting and had no hours of companionship with her. Why, he didn't remember that her eyes were so bright, that her red hair waved so becomingly, that--

"I'll bring a kettle," she said. "I'm going to pick till I fill it, too, just as we did when we were youngsters."

"All right. We'll meet you at the schoolhouse."

The spur of mountains near Crow Hill was a favorite berrying range for the people of that section of Lancaster County. In July and August huckleberries, elders and blackberries grew there in fragrant luxuriance.

When Amanda, in an old dress of cool green, a wide-brimmed hat on her head, came in sight of the schoolhouse, she saw the Landis party approaching it from the other direction. She swung her tin pail in greeting.

"Oh, there's Amanda!" the children shouted and ran to meet her, tin pails clanging and dust flying.

Martin, too, wore old clothes that would be none the worse for meeting with briars or crushed berries. A wide straw hat perched on his head made Amanda think, "He looks like a grown-up edition of Whittier's Barefoot Boy."

"Here we are, all ready," said the leader, as they started off to the crude rail fence. Martin would have helped Amanda over the fence, but she ran from him, put up one foot, and was over it in a trice.

"Still a nimble-toes," he said, laughing. "Mary, can you do as well?"

"Pooh, yes! Who can't climb a fence?" The little girl was over it in a minute. The smaller children lay flat on the ground and squirmed through under the lower rail, while one of the boys climbed up, balanced himself on the top rail, then leaped into the grass.

"I see some berries!" cried Katie, and began to pick them.

"We'll go in farther," said Martin. "The bushes near the road have been almost stripped. Come on, keep on the path and watch out for snakes."

There was a well-defined, narrow trail through the timbered land. Though the weeds had been trodden down along each side of it there were dense portions where snakes might have found an ideal home. After a long walk the little party was in the heart of the woods and blackberry bushes, dark with clusters, waited for their hands. Berries soon rattled in the tin pails, though at first many a handful was eaten and lips were stained red by the sweet juice. They wandered from bush to bush, picking busily, with many exclamations--"Oh, look what a big bunch!" "My pail's almost full!" Little Katie and Charlie soon grew tired of the picking and wandered around the path in search of treasures. They found them--three pretty blue feathers, dropped, no doubt, by some screaming blue jay, a handful of green acorns in their little cups, a few pebbles that appealed to them, one lone, belated anemone, blooming months after its season.

The pails were almost filled and the party was moving up the woods to another patch of berries when little Mary turned to Amanda and said, "Ach, Amanda, tell us that story about the Bear Charm Song."

"Yes, do!" seconded Charlie. "The one you told us once in school last winter."

Amanda smiled, and as the little party walked along close together through the woods, she began:

"Once the Indians lived where we are living now---"

"Oh, did they?" interrupted Charlie. "Real Indians, with bows and arrows and all?"

"Yes, real Indians, bows and arrows and all! They owned all

the land before the white man came and drove them off. But now the Indians are far away from here and they are different from the ones we read about in the history books. The Indians now are more like the poor birds people put in cages---" Her eyes gleamed and her face grew eloquent with expression as she thought of the gross injustice meted out to some of the red men in this land of the free.

"Go on, Manda, go on with the story," cried the children. Only Martin had seen the look in her eyes, that mother-look of compassion.

"Very well, I'll go on."

"And, Charlie," said Mary, "you keep quiet now and don't break in when Manda talks."

"Well," the story-teller resumed, "the Indians who lived out in the woods, far from towns or cities, had to find all their own food. They caught fish, shot animals and birds, planted corn and gathered berries. Some of them they ate at once, but many of them they dried and stored away for winter use. While the older Indians did harder work, the little Indian children ran off to the woods and gathered the berries. But one thing they had to look out for--bears! Great big bears lived in the woods and they are very fond of sweet things. The bears would amble along, peel great handfuls of ripe berries from the bushes with their big clawed paws and eat them. So all good Indian mothers taught their children a Bear Charm Song to sing as they gathered berries. Whenever the bears heard the Bear Charm Song they went to some other part of the woods and left the children to pick their berries unharmed. But once there was a little Indian boy who wouldn't mind his mother. He went to the woods one day to gather berries, but he wouldn't sing the Bear Charm Song, not he! So he picked berries and picked berries, and all of a sudden a great big bear stood by him. Then the little Indian boy, who wouldn't mind his mother, began to sing the Bear Charm Song. But it was too late. The great big bear put his big paws around the little boy and squeezed him, squeezed him, tighter and tighter and tighter--till the little boy who wouldn't mind his mother was changed into a tiny black bat. Then he flew back to his mother, but she didn't know him, and so she chased him and said, 'Go away! Little black bird of the night, go away!' And that is where the bats first came from."

"Ain't that a good story?" said Charlie as Amanda ended. "Tell us another."

"Not now. Perhaps after a while," she promised. "Here's another patch of berries. Shall we pick here?"

"Yes, fill the pails," said Martin, "then we'll be ready for the next number on the program. It seems Amanda's the committee of one to entertain us."

But the next number on the program was furnished by an unexpected participant. The berrying party was busy picking when a crash was heard as if some heavy body were running wild through the leaves and sticks of the woods near by.

"Oh," cried Charlie, "I bet that's a bear! Manda, sing a Bear Charm Song!"

"Oh," echoed Katie in alarm, and ran to the side of Amanda, while Martin lifted his head and stood, alert, looking into the woods in the direction of the noise. The crashing drew nearer, and then the figure of a man came running wildly through the bushes, waving his hands frantically in the air, then pressing them to his face.

"It's Lyman Mertzheimer!" Amanda exclaimed.

"With hornets after him," added Martin.

The children, reassured, ran to the newcomer.

It was Lyman Mertzheimer, his face distorted and swollen, his necktie streaming from one shoulder, where he had torn it in a mad effort to beat off the angry hornets whose nest he had disturbed out of sheer joy in the destruction and an audacious idea that no insect could scare him away or worst him in a fight. He had underestimated the fiery temper of the hornets and their concentrated and persistent methods of defending their home. After he had run wildly through the woods for fifteen minutes and struck out repeatedly the insects left him, just as he reached the berrying party. But the hornets had wreaked their anger upon him; face, hands and neck bore evidence of the battle they had waged.

"First time hornets got me!" he said crossly as he neared the little party. "Oh, you needn't laugh!" he cried in angry tones as Charlie snickered.

"But you look funny--all blotchy."

The stung man allowed his anger to burst out in oaths. "Guess you think it's funny, too," he said to Amanda.

"No. I'm sure it hurts," she said, though she knew he deserved no pity from her.

"We all know that it hurts," said Martin. But there was scant sympathy in his voice.

"Smear mud on," suggested Mary. "Once I got stung by a bumblebee when he went in a hollyhock and I held the flower shut so he couldn't get out, and he stung me through the flower. Mom put mud on and it helped."

"Mud!" stormed Lyman, stepping about in the bush and twisting his head in pain. "There isn't any mud in Lancaster County now. The whole place is dry as punk!"

"If you had some of the mud you slung at me recently it would come in handy now," Martin could not refrain from saying.

Another oath greeted his words. Then the stung young man started off down the road to find relief from his smarts, ignoring the fling.

"Well," said Amanda, "well, of all things! For him to tackle a hornets' nest! Just for the fun of it!"

"But he got his come-uppance for once! Got it from the hornets," said Martin. "Serves him right."

"But that hurts," said Mary sympathetically. "Hornets hurt awful bad!"

"Yes," said Martin as they turned homeward. "But he's getting paid for all the mean tricks he's played on other people."

"Mebbe God made the hornets sting him if he's a bad man," said Charlie.

"We all get what we give out," agreed Martin. "Lyman Mertzheimer will feel those hornet stings for a few days. While I've always been taught not to rejoice at the misfortunes of others I'm not sorry I saw him. I'll call our account square now. You pitied him, didn't you?" he asked Amanda suddenly. "I saw it in your eyes. So did Mary and Katie."

"Of course I pitied him," she confessed. "I'd feel sorry for anything or anybody who suffers. I know it serves him right, that he's earned worse than that, and yet I would have relieved him if I could have done so. Nature meant that we should be decent, I suppose."

The man was thoughtful for a moment. "Yes, I suppose so. It is a woman's nature."

"Would you have us different?"

"No--no--we wouldn't have you different. Many of the best men would be mere brutes if women's pity and tenderness and forgiveness were taken out of their lives--we wouldn't have you different."

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