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- Tillie: A Mennonite Maid - 20/48 -
"When she comes eighteen, pop, she'll have the right to get married whether or no you'd conceited you wouldn't give her the dare."
"If I say I ain't buyin' her her aus styer, Absalom Puntz nor no other feller would take her."
An "aus styer" is the household outfit always given to a bride by her father.
"Well, to be sure," granted Mrs. Getz, "I'd like keepin' Tillie home to help me out with the work still. I didn't see how I was ever goin' to get through without her. But I thought when Absalom Puntz begin to come Sundays, certainly you'd be fur her havin' him. I was sayin' to her only this mornin' that if she didn't want to dishearten Absalom from comin' to set up with her, she'd have to take more notice to him and not act so dopplig with him--like as if she didn't care whether or no he made up to her. I tole her I'd think, now, she'd be wonderful pleased at his wantin' her, and him so well-fixed. Certainly I never conceited you'd be ag'in' it. Tillie she didn't answer nothin'. Sometimes I do now think Tillie's some different to what other girls is."
"I'd be glad," said Jacob Getz in a milder tone, "if she ain't set on havin' him. I was some oneasy she might take it a little hard when I tole her she darsent get married."
"Och, Tillie she never takes nothin' hard," Mrs. Getz answered easily. "She ain't never ast me you goin' to furnish fur her. She don't take no interest. She's so funny that way. I think to myself, still, Tillie is, now, a little dumm!"
It happened that while this dialogue was taking place, Tillie was in the room above the kitchen, putting the two most recently arrived Getz babies to bed; and as she sat near the open register with a baby on her lap, every word that passed between her father and stepmother was perfectly audible to her.
With growing bitterness she listened to her father's frank avowal of his selfish designs. At the same time she felt a thrill of exultation, as she thought of the cherished secret locked in her breast--hidden the more securely from those with whom she seemed to live nearest. How amazed they would be, her stolid, unsuspicious parents, when they discovered that she had been secretly studying and, with Miss Margaret's help, preparing herself for the high calling of a teacher! One more year, now, and she would be ready, Miss Margaret assured her, to take the county superintendent's examination for a certificate to teach. Then good-by to household drudgery and the perpetual self-sacrifice that robbed her of all that was worth while in life.
With a serene mind, Tillie rose, with the youngest baby in her arms, and tenderly tucked it in its little bed.
EZRA HERR, PEDAGOGUE
It was a few days later, at the supper-table, that Tillie's father made an announcement for which she was not wholly unprepared.
"I'm hirin' you out this winter, Tillie, at the hotel. Aunty Em says she's leavin' both the girls go to school again this winter and she'll need hired help. She'll pay me two dollars a week fur you. She'll pay it to me and I'll buy you what you need, still, out of it. You're goin' till next Monday."
Tillie's heart leaped high with pleasure at this news. She was fond of her Aunty Em; she knew that life at the country hotel would be varied and interesting in comparison with the dull, grubbing existence of her own home; she would have to work very hard, of course, but not so hard, so unceasingly, as under her father's eye; and she would have absolute freedom to devote her spare time to her books. The thought of escaping from her father's watchfulness, and the prospect of hours of safe and uninterrupted study, filled her with secret joy.
"I tole Aunty Em she's not to leave you waste no time readin'; when she don't need you, you're to come home and help mom still. Mom she says she can't get through the winter sewin' without you. Well, Aunty Em she says you can sew evenin's over there at the HOtel, on the childern's clo'es. Mom she can easy get through the other work without you, now Sallie's goin' on thirteen. Till December a'ready Sally'll be thirteen. And the winter work's easy to what the summer is. In summer, to be sure, you'll have to come home and help me and mom. But in winter I'm hirin' you out."
"But Sally ain't as handy as what Tillie is," said Mrs. Getz, plaintively. "And I don't see how I'm goin' to get through oncet without Tillie."
"Sally's got to LEARN to be handier, that's all. She's got to get learnt like what I always learnt Tillie fur you."
Fire flashed in Tillie's soft eyes--a momentary flame of shame and aversion; if her blinded father had seen and understood, he would have realized how little, after all, he had ever succeeded in "learning" her the subservience he demanded of his children.
As for the warning to her aunt, she knew that it would be ignored; that Aunty Em would never interfere with the use she made of the free time allowed her, no matter what her father's orders were to the contrary.
"And you ain't to have Absalom Puntz comin' over there Sundays neither," her father added. "I tole Aunty Em like I tole you the other day, I ain't leavin' you keep comp'ny. I raised you, now you have the right to work and help along a little. It's little enough a girl can earn anyways."
Tillie made no comment. Her silence was of course understood by her father to mean submission; while her stepmother felt in her heart a contempt for a meekness that would bear, without a word of protest, the loss of a steady friend so well-fixed and so altogether desirable as Absalom Puntz.
In Absalom's two visits Tillie had been sufficiently impressed with the steadiness of purpose and obstinacy of the young man's character to feel appalled at the fearful task of resisting his dogged determination to marry her. So confident he evidently was of ultimately winning her that at times Tillie found herself quite sharing his confidence in the success of his courting, which her father's interdict she knew would not interfere with in the least. She always shuddered at the thought of being Absalom's wife; and a feeling she could not always fling off, as of some impending doom, at times buried all the high hopes which for the past seven years had been the very breath of her life.
Tillie had one especially strong reason for rejoicing in the prospect of going to the village for the winter. The Harvard graduate, if elected, would no doubt board at the hotel, or necessarily near by, and she could get him to lend her books and perhaps to give her some help with her studies.
The village of New Canaan and all the township were curious to see this stranger. The school directors had felt that they were conceding a good deal in consenting to consider the application of sueh an unknown quantity, when they could, at forty dollars a month, easily secure the services of a Millersville Normal. But the stress that had been brought to bear upon them by the county superintendent, whose son had been a classmate of the candidate, had been rather too strong to be resisted; and so the "Harvard gradyate man" was coming.
That afternoon Tillie had walked over in a pouring rain to William Penn to carry "gums" and umbrellas to her four younger brothers and sisters, and she had realized, with deep exultation, while listening to Ezra Herr's teaching, that she was already far better equipped than was Ezra to do the work he was doing,--and HE was a Millersville Normal!
It happened that Ezra was receiving a visit from a committee of Janeville school directors, and he had departed from his every-day mechanical style of teaching in favor of some fancy methods which he had imbibed at the Normal School during his attendance at the spring term, and which he reserved for use on occasions like the present. Tillie watched him with profound attention, but hardly with profound respect.
"Childern," Ezra said, with a look of deep thought, as he impressively paced up and down before the class of small boys and girls ranged on the platform, "now, childern, what's this reading lesson ABOUT?"
"'Bout a apple-tree!" answered several eager little voices.
"Yes," said Ezra. "About an apple-tree. Correct. Now, childern-- er--what grows on apple-trees, heh?"
"Apples!" answered the intelligent class.
"Correct. Apples. And--now--what was it that came to the apple- tree?"
"A little bird."
"Yes. A bird came to the apple tree. Well--er," he floundered for a moment, then, by a sudden inspiration, "what can a bird do?"
"Fly! and sing!"
"A bird can fly and sing," Ezra nodded. "Very good. Now, Sadie, you dare begin. I 'll leave each one read a werse."
The next recitation was a Fourth Reader lesson consisting of a speech of Daniel Webster's, the import of which not one of the children, if indeed the teacher himself, had the faintest suspicion. And so the class was permitted to proceed, without interruption, in its labored conning of the massive eloquence of that great statesman; and the directors presently took their departure in the firm conviction that in Ezra Herr they had made a good investment of the forty-five dollars a month appropriated to their town out of the State treasury, and they agreed, on their way back to Janeville, that New Canaan was to be pitied for having
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