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- Amanda - 2/40 -
"Um-uh. Uncle Amos says still she's prickly like a chestnut burr. Jiminy crickets, she's worse'n any burr I ever seen!"
"Well," the girl said thoughtfully, "but chestnut burrs are like velvet inside. Mebbe she'd be nice inside if only abody had the dare to find out."
"Ach, come on," urged the boy, impatient at the girl's philosophy. "Mom wants you to fit. Come on, get pins stuck in you and then I'll laugh. Gee, I'm glad I'm not a girl! Fittin' dresses on a day like this--whew! "
"Well," she tossed her red head proudly, "I'm glad I'm one!" A sudden thought came to her--"Come in, Phil, while I fit and then we'll set in the kitchen and count how often Aunt Rebecca says, My goodness."
"Um-uh," he agreed readily, "come on, Manda. That'll be peachy."
The children laughed in anticipation of a good time as they ran through the hot sun of the pasture lot, up the narrow path along the cornfield fence and into the back yard of their home.
The Reist farm with its fine orchards and great fields of grain was manifestly the home of prosperous, industrious farmers. From its big gardens were gathered choice vegetables to be sold in the famous markets of Lancaster, five miles distant. The farmhouse, a big square brick building of old-fashioned design, was located upon a slight elevation and commanded from its wide front porch a panoramic view of a large section of the beautiful Garden Spot of America.
The household consisted of Mrs. Reist, a widow, her two children, her brother Amos Rohrer, who was responsible for the success of the farm, and a hired girl, Millie Hess, who had served the household so long and faithfully that she seemed an integral part of the family.
Mrs. Reist was a sweet-faced, frail little woman, a member of the Mennonite Church. She wore the plain garb adopted by the women of that sect--the tight-fitting waist covered by a pointed shoulder cape, the full skirt and the white cap upon smoothly combed, parted hair. Her red-haired children were so like their father had been, that at times her heart contracted at sight of them. His had been a strong, buoyant spirit and when her hands, like Moses' of old, had required steadying, he had never failed her. At first his death left her helpless and discouraged as she faced the task of rearing without his help the two young children, children about whom they had dreamed great dreams and for whom they had planned wonderful things. But gradually the widowed mother developed new courage, and though frail in body grew brave in spirit and faced cheerfully the rearing of Amanda and Philip.
The children had inherited the father's strength, his happy cheerfulness, his quick-to-anger and quicker-to-repent propensity, but the mother's gentleness also dwelt in them. Laughing, merry, they sang their way through the days, protesting vehemently when things went contrary to their desires, but laughing the next moment in the irresponsible manner of youth the world over. That August day the promise of fun at Aunt Rebecca's expense quite compensated for the unpleasantness of her visit.
Aunt Rebecca Miller was an elder sister to Mrs. Reist, so said the inscription in the big family Bible. But it was difficult to understand how the two women could have been mothered by one person.
Millie, the hired girl, expressed her opinion freely to Amanda one day after a particularly trying time with the old woman. "How that Rebecca Miller can be your mom's sister now beats me. She's more like a wasp than anything I ever seen without wings. It's sting, sting all the time with her; nothin' anybody does or says is just right. She's faultfindin' every time she comes. It wonders me sometimes if she'll like heaven when she gets up there, or if she'll see some things she'd change if she had her way. And mostly all the plain people are so nice that abody's got to like 'em, but she's not like the others, I guess. Most every time she comes she makes me mad. She's too bossy. Why, to-day when I was fryin' doughnuts she bothered me so that I just wished the fat would spritz her good once and she'd go and leave me be."
It will be seen that Millie felt free to voice her opinions at all times in the Reist family. She was a plain-faced, stout little woman of thirty-five, a product of the Pennsylvania Dutch country. Orphaned at an early age she had been buffeted about sorely until the happy day she entered the Reist household. Their kindness to her won her heart and she repaid them by a staunch devotion. The Reist joys, sorrows, perplexities and anxieties were shared by her and she naturally came in for a portion of Aunt Rebecca's faultfinding.
Cross-grained and trying, Rebecca Miller was unlike the majority of the plain, unpretentious people of that rural community. In all her years she had failed to appreciate the futility of fuss, the sin of useless worry, and had never learned the invaluable lesson of minding her own business. "She means well," Mrs. Reist said in conciliatory tones when Uncle Amos or the children resented the interference of the dictatorial relative, but secretly she wondered how Rebecca could be so--so--she never finished the sentence.
"Well, my goodness, here she comes once!" Amanda heard her aunt's rasping voice as they entered the house.
Stifling an "Oh yea" the girl walked into the sitting-room.
"Hello, Aunt Rebecca," she said dutifully, then turned to her mother-- "You want me?"
"My goodness, your dress is all wet in the back!" Aunt Rebecca said shrilly. "What in the world did you do?"
Before she could reply Philip turned about so his wet clothes were on view. "And you too!" cried the visitor. "My goodness, what was you two up to? Such wet blotches like you got!" "We were wadin' in the crick," Amanda said demurely, as her mother smoothed the tousled red hair back from the flushed forehead.
"My goodness! Wadin' in the crick in dog days!" exploded Aunt Rebecca.
"Now for that she'll turn into a doggie, ain't, Mom?" said the boy roguishly.
Aunt Rebecca looked over her steel-rimmed spectacles at the two children who were bubbling over with laughter. "I think," she said sternly, "people don't learn children no manners no more."
"Ach," the mother said soothingly, "you mustn't mind them. They get so full of laughin' even when we don't see what's to laugh at."
"Yes," put in Amanda, "the Bible says it's good to have a merry heart and me and Phil's got one. You like us that way, don't you, Mom?"
"Yes," the mother agreed. "Now you go put on dry things, then I want to fit your dresses. And, Philip, are you wet through?"
"Naw. These thick pants don't get wet through if I rutch in water an hour. Jiminy pats, Mom, girls are delicate, can't stand a little wettin'."
"You just wait, Phil," Amanda called to him as she ran up-stairs, "you're gettin' some good wettin' yet. I ain't done with you."
"Cracky, who's afraid?" he called.
A little later the girl appeared in dry clothes.
"Ach," she said, "I forgot to wash my hands. I better go out to the pump and clean 'em so I don't get my new dresses dirty right aways."
She ran to the pump on the side porch and jerked the handle up and down, while her brother followed and watched her, defiance in his eyes.
"Well," she said suddenly, "if you want it I'll give it to you now." With that she caught him and soused his head in the tin basin that stood in the trough. "One for duckin' me in the crick, and another for stealin' that bird's egg, and a third to learn you some sense." Before he could get his breath she had run into the house and stood before her mother ready for the fitting. "I like this goods, Mom," she told the mother as the new dress was slipped over her head. "I think the brown goes good with my red hair, and the blue gingham is pretty, too. Only don't never buy me no pink nor red."
"I won't. Not unless your hair turns brown."
"My goodness, but you spoil her," came the unsolicited opinion of Aunt Rebecca. "When I was little I wore what my mom bought me, and so did you. We would never thought of sayin', 'Don't get me this or that.'"
"But with red hair it's different. And as long as blue and brown and colors Amanda likes don't cost more than those she don't want I can't see why she shouldn't have what she wants."
"Well, abody wonders what kind o' children plain people expect to raise nowadays with such caterin' to their vanity."
Mrs. Reist bit her lips and refrained from answering. The expression of joy on the face of Amanda as she looked down at her new dress took away the sting of the older woman's words. "I want," the mother said softly, "I want my children to have a happy childhood. It belongs to them. And I want them to remember me for a kind mom."
"Ach, Mom, you _are_ a good mom." Amanda leaned over the mother, who was pinning the hem in the new dress, and pressed a kiss on the top of the white-capped head. "When I grow up I want to be like you. And when I'm big and you're old, won't you be the nicest granny!"
Aunt Rebecca suddenly looked sad and meek. Perhaps a partial appreciation of what she missed by being childless came to her. What thrills she might have known if happy children ran to her with shouts of "Granny!" But she did not carry the thread of thought far enough to analyze her own actions and discover that, though childless, she could attract the love of other people's children if she chose. The tender moment was fleet. She looked at Amanda and Philip and saw in them only two children prone to evil, requiring stern disciplining.
"Now don't go far from the house," said Mrs. Reist later, "for your other dress is soon ready to fit. As soon as Aunt Rebecca gets the pleats basted in the skirt."
"I'll soon get them in. But it's foolishness to go to all that bother when gathers would do just as good and go faster."
Amanda turned away and a moment later she and Phil were seated on the long wooden settee in the kitchen. The boy had silently agreed to a temporary truce so that the game of counting might be played. He would pay back his sister some other time. Gee, it was easy to get her goat--
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