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- Amanda - 6/40 -
Amanda rose early the next morning. Apple-butter boiling day was always a happy one for her. She liked to watch the fire under the big copper kettle, to help with the ceaseless stirring with a long-handled stirrer. She thrilled at the breathless moment when her mother tested the thick, dark contents of the kettle and announced, "It's done."
At dawn she went up the stairs with Uncle Amos to the big attic and opened and closed doors for him as he carried the heavy copper kettle down to the yard. Then she made the same trip with Millie and helped to carry from the attic heavy stone crocks in which to store the apple butter.
After breakfast she went out to the grassy spot in the rear of the garden where an iron tripod stood and began to gather shavings and paper in readiness for the fire. She watched Millie scour the great copper kettle until its interior shone, then it was lifted on the tripod, the cider poured into it, and the fire started. Logs were fed to the flames until a roaring fire was in blast. Several times Millie skimmed the foam from the cider.
"This is one time when signs don't work," the hired girl confided to the child. "Your Aunt Rebecca says that if you cook apple butter in the up-sign of the almanac it boils over easy, but it's the down-sign to-day, and yet this cider boils up all the time."
"I guess it'll all burn in the bottom," said Amanda, "if it's the down-sign."
"Not if you stir it good when the snitz are in. That's the time the work begins. Here's your mom and Philip."
"Ach, Mom,"--Amanda ran to meet her mother--"this here's awful much fun! I wish we'd boil apple butter every few days."
"Just wait once," said Millie, "till you're a little bigger and want to go off to picnics or somewhere and got to stay home and help to stir apple butter. Then you'll not like it so well. Why, Mrs. Hershey was tellin' me last week how mad her girls get still if the apple butter's got to be boiled in the hind part of the week when they want to be done and dressed and off to visit or to Lancaster instead of gettin' their eyes full of smoke stirrin' apple butter."
Mrs. Reist laughed.
"But," Amanda said with a tender glance at the hired girl, "I guess Hershey's ain't got no Millie like we to help."
"Ach, pack off now with you," Millie said, trying to frown. "I got to stop this spoilin' you. You don't think I'd stand in the hot sun and stir apple butter while you go off on a picnic or so when you're big enough to help good?"
"But that's just what you would do! I know you! Didn't you spend almost your whole Christmas savin' fund on me and Phil last year?"
"Ach, you talk too much! Let me be, now, I got to boil apple butter."
Philip ran for several boxes and old chairs and put them under a spreading cherry tree. "We take turns stirrin'," he explained, "so those that don't stir can take it easy while they wait their turn. Jiminy Christmas, guess we'll have a regular party to-day. All of us are in it, and Aunt Rebecca's comin', and Lyman Mertzheimer, and I guess Martin Landis, and mebbe some of the little Landis ones and the whole Crow Hill will be here. Here comes Millie with the snitz!"
The pared apples were put into the kettle, then the stirring commenced. A long wooden stirrer, with a handle ten feet long, was used, the big handle permitting the stirrer to stand a comfortable distance from the smoke and fire.
The boiling was well under way when Aunt Rebecca arrived.
"My goodness, Philip," she began as soon as she neared the fire, "you just stir half! You must do it all around the bottom of the kettle or the butter'll burn fast till it's done. Here, let me do it once." She took the handle from his hands and began to stir vigorously.
"Good!" cried the boy. "Now we can roast apples. Here, comes Lyman up the road, and Martin Landis and the baby. Now we'll have some fun!" He pointed to the toad, where Martin Landis, a neighbor boy, drew near with his two-year-old brother on his arm.
"But you keep away from the fire," ordered Aunt Rebecca.
The children ran off to the yard to greet the newcomers and soon came back joined by Lyman and Martin and the ubiquitous baby.
"I told you," Lyman said with mocking smiles, "that Martin would have to bring the baby along."
Martin Landis was fifteen, but hard work and much responsibility had added to him wisdom and understanding beyond his years. His frank, serious face could at times assume the look of a man of ripened experience. At Lyman's words it burned scarlet. "Ach, go on," he said quietly; "it'd do you good if you had a few to carry around; mebbe then you wouldn't be such a dude."
That brought the laugh at the expense of the other boy, who turned disdainfully away and walked to Aunt Rebecca with an offer to stir the apple butter.
"No, I'll do it," she said in a determined voice.
"Give me the baby," said Mrs. Reist, "then you children can go play." The little tot ran to her outstretched arms and was soon laughing at her soft whispers about young chickens to feed and ducks to see.
"Now," Amanda cried happily, "since Mom keeps the baby we'll roast corn and apples under the kettle."
In spite of Aunt Rebecca's protest, green corn and ripe apples were soon encased in thick layers of mud and poked upon the glowing bed under the kettle.
"Abody'd think none o' you had breakfast," she said sternly.
"Ach," said Mrs. Reist, "these just taste better because they're wrapped in mud. I used to do that at home when I was little."
"Well, I never did. They'll get burned yet with their foolin' round the fire."
Her prophecy came perilously close to fulfilment later in the day. Amanda, bending near the fire to turn a mud-coated apple, drew too close to the lurking flames. Her gingham dress was ready fuel for the fire. Suddenly a streak of flame leaped up the hem of it. Aunt Rebecca screamed. Lyman cried wildly, "Where's some water?" But before Mrs. Reist could come to the rescue Martin Landis had caught the frightened child and thrown her flat into a dense bed of bean vines near by, smothering the flames.
Then he raised her gently. Much handling of his younger sisters and brothers had made him adept with frightened children.
"Come, Manda," he said soothingly, "you're not hurt. Just your dress is burned a little."
"My hand--it's burned, I guess," she faltered.
Again force of habit swayed Martin. He bent over and kissed the few red marks on her fingers as he often kissed the bumped heads and scratched fingers of the little Landis children.
"Ach--" Amanda's hand fluttered under the kiss.
Then a realization of what he had done came to the boy. "Why," he stammered, "I didn't mean--I guess I oughtn't done that--I wasn't thinking, Manda."
"Ach, Martin, it's all right. You didn't hurt it none." She misunderstood him. "See, it ain't hurt bad at all. But, Martin, you scared me when you threw me in that bean patch! But it put the fire out. You're smart to think of that so quick."
"Oh, yes," Mrs. Reist found her voice, and the color crept back to her cheeks again. "Martin, I can't thank you enough."
"Um," Lyman said sneeringly, "now I suppose Martin's a hero."
"So he is!" said the little girl with decision. "He saved my life, and I ain't forgettin' it neither." Then she sat down by her mother's side and began to play with the baby.
"Well, guess the fun's over," said Lyman. "You went and spoiled it by catching fire." He went off in sulky mood.
"My goodness," exclaimed Aunt Rebecca, "mebbe now you'll keep away from this fire once."
Amanda kept away. The fun of the apple-butter boiling was ended for her. She sat quietly under the tree while Millie and Aunt Rebecca and Phil took turns at stirring. She watched passively while Millie poured pounds of sugar into the boiling mass. She even missed the customary thrill as some of the odorous contents of the kettle were tested and the verdict came, "It's done!" The thrills of apple-butter boiling were as nothing to her now. She still felt the wonder of being rescued from the fire, rescued by a nice boy with a strong arm and a gentle voice-- what if it was only a boy she had known all her life!--her heart enshrined its first hero that day.
She forgot the terror that had seized her as the flames licked up her dress, the scorching touch on her hand was obliterated from her memory and only the healing gentleness of the kiss remained.
"He kissed my hand," she thought that night as she lay under her patchwork quilt. "It was just like the stories we read about in school about the 'knights of old that were brave and bold.'"
She thought of the picture on the schoolhouse wall. Sir Galahad, the teacher had called it, and read those lovely lines that Amanda remembered and liked--"My strength is as the strength of ten because my heart is pure."
Martin was like that!
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