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- Amanda - 3/40 -
just a little thing like a caterpillar dropped down her neck would make her holler!
"Gee, Manda, I thought of a bully thing!" the boy whispered. "If that old crosspatch Rebecca says 'My goodness' thirty times till four o'clock I'll fetch a tobacco worm and put it in her bonnet. If she don't say it that often you got to put one in. Huh? Manda, ain't that a peachy game to play?"
"All right," agreed the girl. "I'll get paper and pencil to keep count." She slipped into the other room and in a few minutes the two settled themselves on the settee, their ears straining to hear every word spoken by the women in the next room.
"My goodness, this thread breaks easy! They don't make nothin' no more like they used to," came through the open door.
"That's one," said Phil; "make a stroke on the paper. Jiminy Christmas, that's easy! Bet you we get that paper full of strokes!"
"My goodness, that girl's shootin' up! It wouldn't wonder me if you got to leave these dresses down till time for school. Now if I was you I'd make them plenty big and let her grow into 'em. Our mom always done that."
And so the conversation went on until there were twenty lines on the paper. The game was growing exciting and, under the stress of it, the counting on the old settee rose above the discreet whisper it was originally meant to be. "Twenty-one!" cried Amanda. Aunt Rebecca walked to the door.
"What's you two up to?" she asked. "Oh, you got the hymn-book. My goodness, what for you writin' on the hymn-book?" She turned to her sister. "Ain't you goin' to make 'em stop that? A hymn-book ain't to be wrote on!"
"Twenty-two," cried Phil, secure in the knowledge that his mother would not object to their use of the book and safely confident that the aunt could not dream what they were doing.
"What is twenty-two? Look once, Amanda," said the woman, taking the mention of the number to refer to a hymn.
The girl opened the book. "Beulah Land," she read, a sudden compunction seizing her.
"Ach, yes, Beulah Land--I sang that when I was a girl still. My goodness, abody gets old quick." She sighed and returned to her sewing.
"Twenty-three, countin' the last one," prompted Phil. "Mark it down. Gee, it's a cinch."
But Amanda looked sober. "Phil, mebbe it ain't right to make fun of her so and count after how often she says the same thing. She looked kinda teary when she said that about gettin' old quick."
"Ach, go on," said Philip, too young to appreciate the subtle shades of feelings or looks. "You can't back out of it now. Gee, what's bitin' you? It ain't four o'clock yet, and it ain't right, neither, to go back on a promise. Anyhow, if we don't go on and count up to thirty you got to put the worm in her bonnet--you said you would--girls are no good, they get cold feet."
Thus spurred, Amanda resumed the game until the coveted thirty lines were marked on the paper. Then, the goal reached, it was Phil's duty to find a tobacco worm.
Supper at the Reist farmhouse was an ample meal. By that time the hardest portion of the day's labor was completed and the relaxation from physical toil made the meal doubly enjoyable. Millie saw to it that there was always appetizing food set upon the big square table in the kitchen. Two open doors and three screened windows looking out upon green fields and orchards made the kitchen a cool refuge that hot August day.
Uncle Amos, a fat, flushed little man, upon whose shoulders rested the responsibilities of that big farm, sat at the head of the table. His tired figure sagged somewhat, but his tanned face shone from a vigorous scrubbing. Millie sat beside Mrs. Reist, for she was, as she expressed it, "Nobody's dog, to eat alone." She expected to eat with the folks where she hired. However, her presence at the table did not prevent her from waiting on the others. She made frequent trips to the other side of the big kitchen to replenish any of the depleted dishes.
That evening Amanda and Philip were restless.
"What ails you two?" demanded Millie. "Bet you're up to some tricks again, by the gigglin' of you and the rutchin' around you're doin'! I just bet you're up to something," she grumbled, but her eyes twinkled.
"Nothin' ails us," declared Phil. "We just feel like laughin'."
"Ach," said Aunt Rebecca, "this dumb laughin' is all for nothin'. Anyhow, you better not laugh too much, for you got to cry as much as you laugh before you die."
"Then I'll have to cry oceans!" Amanda admitted. "There'll be another Niagara Falls, right here in Lancaster County, I'm thinkin'."
"Ach," said Millie, "that's just another of them old superstitions."
"Yes," Aunt Rebecca said solemnly, "nobody believes them no more. But it's a lot of truth in 'em just the same. I often took notice that as high as the spiders build their webs in August so high will the snow be that winter. Nowadays people don't study the almanac or look for signs. Young ones is by far too smart. The farmers plant their seeds any time now, beans and peas in the Posey Woman sign and then they wonder why they get only flowers 'stead of peas and beans. They take up red beets in the wrong sign and wonder why the beets cook up stringy. The women make sauerkraut in Gallas week and wonder why it's bitter. I could tell them what's the matter! There's more to them old women's signs than most people know. I never yet heard a dog cry at night that I didn't hear of some one I know dyin' soon after. I wouldn't open an umbrella in the house for ten dollars--it's bad luck--yes, you laugh," she said accusingly to Philip. "But you got lots to learn yet. My goodness, when I think of all I learned since I was as old as you! Of all the new things in the world! I guess till you're as old as I am there'll be lots more."
"Sure Mike," said the boy, rather flippantly. "What's all new since you was little?" he asked his aunt.
"Telephone, them talkin' machines, sewin' machines--anyhow, they were mighty scarce then--trolleys----"
"My goodness, yes! Them awful things! They scare the life out abody. I don't go in none and I don't want no automobile hearse to haul me, neither. I'd be afraid it'd run off."
"Great horn spoon, Aunt Rebecca, but that would be a gay ride," the boy said, while Amanda giggled and Uncle Amos winked to Millie, who made a hurried trip to the stove for coffee.
"Ach," came the aunt's rebuke. "You talk too much of that slang stuff. I guess I'll take the next trolley home," she said, unconscious of the merriment she had caused. "I'd like to help with the dishes, but I want to get home before it gets so late for me. Anyhow, Amanda is big enough to help. When I was big as her I cooked and baked and worked like a woman. Why, when I was just a little thing, Mom'd tell me to go in the front room and pick the snipples off the floor and I'd get down and do it. Nobody does that now, neither. They run a sweeper over the carpets and wear 'em out."
"But the floors are full of germs," said Amanda.
"Cherms--what are them?"
"Why, dreadful things! I learned about them at school. They are little, crawly bugs with a lot of legs, and if you eat them or breathe them in you'll get scarlet fever or diphtheria."
"Ach, that's too dumb!" Aunt Rebecca was unimpressed. "I don't believe in no such things." With that emphatic remark she stalked to the sitting-room for her bonnet. She met Phil coming out, his hands in his pockets. He paused in the doorway as Amanda and her mother joined the guest.
Aunt Rebecca lifted the black silk bonnet carefully from the little table and Amanda shifted nervously from one foot to the other. If only Aunt Rebecca wouldn't hold the bonnet so the worm would fall to the floor! Then the woman gave the stiff headgear a dexterous turn and the squirming thing landed on her head.
"My goodness! My goodness!" she cried as something soft brushed her cheek. Intently inquisitive, she stooped and picked from the floor a fat, green, wriggling tobacco worm.
"One of them cherms, I guess, Amanda, ain't?" she said as she looked keenly at the child.
Amanda blushed and was silent. Philip was unable to hide his guilt. "Now, when did tobacco worms learn to live in bonnets?" she asked the boy as she eyed him reproachfully.
Mrs. Reist looked hurt. Her gentle reproof, "Children, I'm ashamed of you!" cut deeper with Amanda than the scolding of Aunt Rebecca--"You're a bad pair! Almost you spoiled me my good bonnet. If I'd squeezed that worm on my cap it would have ruined it! My goodness, you both need a good spankin', that's what. Too bad you ain't got a pop to learn you!"
"It was only for fun, Aunt Rebecca," said Amanda, truly ashamed. But Phil put his hand over his mouth to hide a grin.
"Fun--what for fun is that--to be so disrespectful to an old aunt? And you, Philip, ain't one bit ashamed. Your mom just ought to make you hunt all the worms in the whole tobacco patch. My goodness, look at that clock! Next with this dumb foolin' I'll miss that trolley yet. I must hurry myself now."
"I'm sorry, Aunt Rebecca," Amanda said softly, eager to make peace with the woman, whom she knew to be kind, though a bit severe.
"Ach, I don't hold no spite. But I think it's high time you learn to behave. Such a big girl like you ought to help her brother be good, not learn him tricks. Boys go to the bad soon enough. I'm goin' now," she addressed Mrs. Reist, "and you let me know when you boil apple butter and I'll come and help stir."
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