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Amanda: A Daughter of the Mennonites By Anna Balmer Myers Characters: 16448

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


On the Mountain Top

The following Sunday at noon Martin passed the Reist farmhouse as he drove his mother and several of the children to Mennonite church at Landisville. After the service he passed that way again and noticed several cars stopping at Reists'. Evidently they were entertaining a number of visitors for Sunday dinner after the service, as is the custom in rural Lancaster County. The big porch was filled with people who rocked or leaned idly against the pillars, while in the big kitchen Millie, Amanda and Mrs. Reist worked near the hot stove and prepared an appetizing dinner for them.

Amanda did not shirk her portion of the necessary work, but rebellion was in her heart as she noted her mother's flushed, tired face.

"Mother, if you'd only feel that Millie and I could get the dinner without you! It's a shame to have you in this kitchen on a day like this!"

"Ach, I'm not so hot. I'm not better than you or Millie," the mother insisted, and stuck to her post, while Amanda murmured, "This Sunday visiting--how I hate it! We've outgrown the need of it now, especially with automobiles."

But at length the meal was placed upon the table, the guests gathered from porches and lawn and an hour later the dishes were washed and everything at peace once more in the kitchen. Then Amanda walked out to the garden at the rear of the house.

"Ooh," she sighed in relief, "I'm glad that's over! Visiting on such a day should be made a misdemeanor!" She pulled idly on a zinnia that lifted its globular red head in the hot August sun.

"Hey, Sis," came Phil's voice to her, "he wants you on the 'phone!"

"Who's he?" she asked as the boy ran out to her in the garden.

They turned to the house, talking as they went.

"Well, Sis, you know who he is! He's coming round here all the time lately."

A gentle shove from the girl rewarded the boy for his teasing, but he was not easily daunted. "Don't you remember," he said, "how that old Mrs. Haldeman who kept tine candy store near the market house in Lancaster used to call her husband he? She never called him Mister or Mr. Haldeman, just he, and you could feel she would have written it in italics if she could."

"Well, that was all right, there was only one he in the world so far as she was concerned. But do you remember, Phil, the time Mother took us in her store to buy candy and we talked to her canary and the old woman said, 'Ach, yes, I think still how good birds got it! I often wish I was a canary, but then he would have to be one too!' We disgraced Mother by giggling fit to kill ourselves. But the old woman just smiled at us and gave us each a pink and white striped peppermint stick. Now run along, Phil, don't be eavesdropping," she said as they reached the hall and she sat down to answer the telephone.

"That you, Amanda?" came over the wire.

"Yes."

"Got a houseful of company? It seemed like that when we drove past. Overflow meeting on the porch!"

"Oh, yes, as usual."

"What I wanted to know is--are there any young people among the visitors, that makes it a matter of courtesy for you to stay at home all afternoon?"

"No, they are all older people to-day, and a few little children."

"Good! Then how would you like to have a little picnic, just we two? I want to get away from Victrola music and children's questions and four walls, and I thought you might have a similar longing."

"Mental telepathy, Martin! That's just what I was thinking as I was out in the garden."

"Then I'll call for you and we'll go up past the sandpit to that hilltop where the breeze blows even on a day like this."

When Martin came for her she was ready, a lunch tucked under one arm, two old pillows in the other. She had given the red hair a few pats, added several hairpins, slipped off her white dress and buttoned up a pale green chambray one with cool white collar and cuffs. She stood ready, attractive, as Martin entered the lawn.

"Say!" he whistled. "You did that in short order! I thought it took girls hours to dress."

"Then you're like Solomon; you can't understand the ways of women!" She laughed as she handed him the lunch-box.

Her calm efficiency puzzled him. Lately he was discovering so many undreamed of qualities in this lively friend of his childhood. He was beginning to feel some of the wonder those people must have felt whose children played with pebbles that were one day discovered to be priceless uncut diamonds. Until that day she had found him prostrate in her moccasin woods he had thought of her as just Amanda Reist, a nice, jolly girl with a quick temper if you tried her too hard and a quick tongue to express it, but a good comrade and a pleasant companion if you treated her fairly.

Then his attitude had undergone a change. After that day of his great unhappiness he thought of her as a woman, staunch, courageous, yet gentle and feminine, one who had faith in her old friend, who could comfort a man when he was downcast and help him raise his head again. A wonderful woman she was! One who loved pretty clothes and things modern and yet appreciated the charm of the old-fashioned, and seemed to dovetail perfectly into the plain grooves of her people and his with their quaint old dress and houses and manners. A woman, too, who had an intense love for the great outdoors. Not the shallow, pretentious love that would call forth gushing rhapsodies about moonlight or sunsets or the spectacular alone in nature, but a sincere, deep-rooted love that shone in her eyes as she stooped to see more plainly the tracery of veins in a fallen leaf and moved her to gentle speech to the birds, butterflies and woodland creatures as though they could understand and answer.

As they walked down the country road he looked at her. He had a way of noticing women's clothes and had become an observant judge of their becomingness. In her growing-up days Amanda had been frequently angered by his frank, unsolicited remarks about the colors she wore--this blue was off color for her red hair, or that golden brown was just the thing. Later she grew accustomed to his remarks and rather expected them. They still disconcerted her at times, but she had long ago ceased to grow angry about them.

"That green's the color for you to-day," he said, as they went along. "Do you know, I've often thought I'd like to see you in a black gown and a string of real jade beads around your neck."

"Jade! Was there ever a red head who didn't wish she had a string of jade beads?"

"You'd be great!"

"So would the price," she told him, laughing. "A string of real jade would cost as much as a complete outfit of clothes I wear."

"Then you should have black hair and cheap coral ones would do."

"Why, Martin," she said in surprise, "you are studying color combinations, aren't you?"

"Oh, not exactly; I'm not interested in all colors. But say, that reminds me--I saw a girl in Lancaster last winter who had hair like yours and about the same coloring. She wore a brown suit and brown hat and furs--it was great."

"I'd like to have that." Daughter of Eve! She liked it because he did! "But don't speak about furs on a day like this! It's hot--too hot, Martin, for a houseful of company, don't you think so?"

"It is hot to stand and cook for extra people."

"Well, perhaps it's wicked, but I hate this Sunday visiting the people of Lancaster County indulge in! I never did like it!"

"I'm not keen about it myself. Sunday seems to me to be a day to go to church and rest and enjoy your family, sometimes to go off to the woods like this. But a houseful of buzzing visitors swarming through it-- whew! it does spoil the Sabbath."

"I never did like to visit," confessed the girl. "Not unless I went to people I really cared for. When we were little and Mother would take Phil and me to visit relatives or friends I merely liked I'd be there a little while and then I'd tug at Mother's skirt and beg, 'Mom, we want to go home.' I suppose I spoiled many a visit for her. I was self-willed even then."

"You are a stubborn person," he said, with so different a meaning that Amanda flushed.

"I know I am. And I have a nasty temper, too."

"Don't you

know," he consoled her, "that a temper controlled makes a strong personality? George Washington had one, the history books say, but he made it serve him."

"And that's no easy achievement." The girl spoke from her own experience. "It's like pulling molars to press your lips together and be quiet when you want to rear and tear and stamp your feet."

"Well, come down to hard facts, and how many of us will have to admit that we have feelings like that at times? There is still a good share of the primitive man left in our natures. We're not saints. Why, even the churches that believe in saints don't canonize mortals until they have been a hundred years dead--they want to be sure they are dead and their mortal weaknesses forgotten."

Amanda laughed. A moment later they turned from the country road and followed a narrower path that was bordered on one side by green fields and on the other by a strip of woods, an irregular arm reaching out from Amanda's moccasin haunt. The road led up-hill at a sharp angle, so that when the traveler reached the top, panting and tired, there stretched before him in delightful panorama a view of Lancaster County that more than compensated for the discomfort and effort of the climb.

Amanda and Martin stood facing that sight. Behind them lay the cool, tree-clad hill, before them the blue August sky looked down on Lancaster County farms, whose houses and red barns seemed dropped like kindergarten toys into the midst of undulating green fields. One could sit or stand under the sheltering shade of the trees along the edge of the woods and yet look up to the sky or out upon the Garden Spot and farther off, to the blue, hazy mountain ridge that touched the sky-line and cut off the view of what lay beyond.

Martin threw the pillows on the ground and they sat down in the cool shade.

"Can anything beat this?" he asked lazily as he ruffled the dry leaves about him with his hands. "You know, Amanda, I could never understand why, with my love for outdoors, I can't be a farmer. When I was a boy I used to consider it the natural thing for me to do as my father did. I did help him, but I never liked the work. You couldn't coax the other boys to the city; they'd rather pitch hay or plant corn. And yet I like nothing better than to be out in the open. During the summer I'm out in the garden after I come home from the city, and that much of working the soil I like, but for a steady job--not for me!"

"It's best to do work one likes," said the girl. "Not every person who likes outdoors was meant to be a farmer. Be glad you like to be out in the open. But I can't conceive of any person not liking it. I could sit and look at the sky for one whole day. It's so encouraging. Sometimes when I walk home from school after a hard day and I look down on the road and think over the problems of handling certain trying children so as to get the best out of them and the latent best in them developed, I look up all of a sudden and the sky is so wonderful that, somehow, my troubles seem trivial. It's just as though the sky were saying, 'Child, you've been looking down so long and worrying about little things that you've forgotten that the sky is blue and the clouds are still sailing over you.' And, Martin, don't you like the stars? I never get tired of looking at them. I never care to gaze at the full moon unless there are clouds sailing over her. She's too big and brazen, too compelling. But the twinkle of the stars and the sudden flashing out of dim ones you didn't see at first always makes me feel like singing. Ever feel that way?"

"Yes, but I couldn't put it all into words like that."

"Ah," he thought, "she has the mind of a poet, the heart of a child, the soul of a woman."

"I read somewhere," she went on, as though certain of his understanding and sharing her mood, "that the Pagans said man was made to stand upright so that he might raise his face to heaven and his eyes to the stars. Somehow, it seems those old Pagans had a finer conception of many vital truths than some of us have in this age."

"That's true. We have them beaten in many ways, but when we come across a thing like that we stop to think and wonder where they got it. I always did like mythology. Pandora and her box, Clytie and her emblem of constancy, and Ulysses--what schoolboy escaped the thrills of Ulysses? I bet you pitied Orpheus!"

"I did! But aren't we serious for a picnic? Next thing we know one of us will be saying thirdly, fourthly, or amen!"

"I don't know--it suits me. You're so sensible, Amanda, it's a pleasure to talk with you. Most girls are so frothy."

"No disparaging remarks about our sex," she said lightly, "or I'll retaliate."

"Go on," he challenged, "I dare you to! What's the worst fault in mere man?"

She raised her hand in protest. "I wash my hands of that! But I will say that if most girls are frothy, as you say, it's because most men seem to like them that way. Confess now, how many shallow, frothy girls grow into old maids? It's generally the butterfly that occasions the merry chase, straw hats out to catch it. You seldom see a straw hat after a bee."

"Oh, Amanda, that's not fair, not like you!" But he thought ruefully of Isabel and her butterfly attractions. "I admit we follow the butterflies but sometimes we wake up and see our folly. True, men don't chase honeybees, but they have a wholesome respect for them and build houses for them. After all, the real men generally appreciate the real women. Sometimes the appreciation comes too late for happiness, but it seldom fails to come. No matter how appearances belie it, it's a fact, nevertheless, that in this crazy world of to-day the sincere, real girl is still appreciated. The frilly Gladys, Gwendolyns and What-nots still have to yield first place to the old-fashioned Rebeccas, Marys and Amandas."

Her heart thumped at the words. She became flustered and said the first thing that came into her head to say, "I like that, calling me old-fashioned! But we won't quarrel about it. Let's eat our lunch; that will keep us from too much talking for a while."

Martin handed her the box. He was silent as she opened it. She noted his preoccupation, his gray eyes looking off to the distant fields.

"Come back to earth!" she ordered. "What are you dreaming about?"

"I was just thinking that you are old-fashioned. I'm glad you are."

"Well, I'm not!" she retorted. "Come on, eat. I just threw in some rolls and cold chicken and pickles and a few peaches."

The man turned and gave his attention to the lunch and ate with evident enjoyment, but several times Amanda felt his keen eyes scrutinizing her face. "What ails him?" she thought.

"This is great, this is just the thing!" he told her several times during the time of lunch. "Let's do this often, come up here where the air is pure."

"All right," she agreed readily. "It will do you good to get up in the hills. I don't see how you stand being housed in a city in the summer! It must be like those awful days in the early spring or in the fall when I'm in the schoolroom and rebel because I want to be outdoors. I rebel every minute when the weather is nice, do it subconsciously while I'm teaching the states and capitals or hearing tables or giving out spelling words. Something just keeps saying inside of me, 'I want to be out, want to be out, be out, be out!' It's a wonder I don't say it out loud sometimes."

"If you did you'd hear a mighty echo, I bet! Every kid in the room would say it after you."

"Yes, I'm sure of that. I feel like a slave driver when I make them study on days that were made for the open. But it's the only way, I suppose. We have to learn to knuckle very early."

"Yes, but it's a great old world, just the same, don't you think so?"

"It's the only one I ever tried, so I'm satisfied to stay on it a while longer," she told him.

They laughed at that as only Youth can laugh at remarks that are not clever, only interesting to each other because of the personality of the speaker.

So the afternoon passed and the two descended again to the dusty country road, each feeling refreshed and stimulated by the hours spent together.

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