A Romance of the Plain People
RUTH U. TUTHILL
In which Mennonite idealism does battle with sex appeal
AMANDA CRESSMAN came down the street from the mission, carrying her other pair of shoes. They were the kind that Mennonite men and women wear—thick cowhide, clumsy and serviceable. The Plain People never make concessions to environment, so Amanda clumped along in footgear identical to that she carried. It never occurred to her to rebel because her farmers’ boots were heavy and unwieldy and unnecessary on city pavements of concrete and asphalt.
Amanda had never owned a bright-colored dress in her life. Ever since babyhood she had gone garbed in Mennonite habit—long, full skirt of homespun, and tight waist fastened with hooks and eyes—a reproof to those backsliding members who yielded to the lure of buttons; three-cornered shawl fastened securely front and back under the band of her dark apron; a poke bonnet worn over a close-fitting white cap tied under her chin.
Amanda had been a grotesque, dwarfed figure as a child, trammelled in every childish activity by the hampering draperies; she was a Noah’s-ark silhouette of a woman. She accepted the Mennonite tenets. But sometimes—and she prayed to be forgiven for it—she wished for a bright blue dress the color of the sky, and a pure-white apron bordered with little gold stars. No matter how hard she prayed, the wish for a dress and an apron like that haunted her. That impious wish of hers and others vaguely akin to it, had been partly responsible for her leaving the farm and taking up mission work under Brother Samuel Funk in what he called the “wicked” American city beside the lake. If you worked hard early and late, maybe you wouldn’t have those troubling desires. You’d be too tired.
Down the street clumped Amanda. Past the brilliant red front of a chain grocery store; around the corner by the bright orange gas-filling station. Amanda liked the crude flat colors. Red stores and orange filling stations had a heartening effect. She felt that she could let herself go without sin in admiration of those gorgeous color schemes. \nyway, sin or no sin, she had to pass them to get to the cobbler’s.
Tony’s cobbler shop had none of the devastating frivolity of its neighbors. Its two big windows were grimy and flyspecked. Across one of them the words Shoe Hospital were painted in black capitals, with here and there a letter missing. Posters announcing the current attractions at the East Side Movie Theatre leaned askew against the inside of the panes. The window sills were piled with dilapidated boots and shoes, and behind them, on his cobbler’s bench, hammer in hand, eternally bending over the shoe upon the iron foot before him, was Tony. Back of him stood a row of big machines.
Amanda had seen him before as she passed—a pale-olive profile with long eyelashes dark against a sharply modelled cheek. Amanda wondered if all Eyc-talians were as beautiful as that. Not that she used the word. “Beautiful” was a word not contained in the audible vocabulary of anyone she had ever known. She hesitated for a moment, looking at Tony through the window, then went in timidly with her bulky newspaper package.
APPARENTLY Tony did not see her. He continued - taking nails out of his mouth, fitting them into the sole of the shoe before him and tapping them with his hammer. Amanda untied the string and took her shoes out of the newspaper. She was glad to get rid of that paper. Newspapers were akin to story books. They infringed on the monopoly of the Bible as reading matter. Maybe, even doing up packages with them was sinful.
The rustling drew Tony’s attention. He looked up at Amanda and smiled. Dazzling as sun on a snowdrift was Tony’s smile.
“Hello!” said Tony.
Amanda bobbed her head awkwardly. Her face was set in Amish immobility. Nothing to be gleaned from Amanda’s face on the subject of that smile. Whether she approved or disapproved was Amanda’s secret.
“You want shoes fixed, lady?”
Still Amanda did not speak. She pointed to the flat heels worn down on one side to the thinness of paper.
Tony took the shoes from her and looked at them with professional interest. With courtesy, too. He might well have laughed at shoes like those Amanda wore, but he didn’t even smile.
“All right. I fix. When you want?”
Then Amanda spoke harshly, loudly, after the manner of the Plain People.
“Saturday. Will they be ready till I come back?”
Tony was used to hearing idioms that were not Italian. American, Amish—what difference did it make? So long as Tessa hadn’t forgotten the Italian she had learned as a baby and understood his speech, he was content to communicate with others by signs and guesswork.
“Sure, lady.” Again the dazzling smile. He tore from a pad a cryptic card. Inserting a duplicate in one of the shoes, he gave the card to Amanda.
“You bring him when you come. All right?”
Amanda thrust the card into her apron pocket. She took leave of Tony with another awkward bow.
“Bye-bye,” said Tony blithely.
A MANDA WENT out, stolid, immobile, as a Mennonite should go, but taking with her a picture of that olivedark Italian face complete in every detail, even to the clean line of shaven chin and jaw. There was something unaccustomed and thrilling about the clean-shaven jaw of youth that charmed Amanda, as the thought of that bright blue dress and the pure-white apron embroidered with stars had charmed her. As guiltily, too. For if she thought of a masculine throat at all, it ought to have been Jacob Brubacher’s, fringed with a straggling red beard thin and uneven. By the time he was forty, Jacob would have a rounded hirsute appendage, dignified and manly, ornamenting his receding chin. But at twenty—well, it wasn’t Jacob’s fault that his immature beard made him look like a goat.
There was no help for if. Jacob was orthodox. Among the Plain People, to shave more than the upper lip was a sin. Amanda knew that the harsh sentence of ban and shunning would be pronounced upon Jacob; that no one would speak to him or eat with him at table, if he persisted in the use of a razor. Amanda approved of Jacob’s integrity. But she allowed her mind to occupy itself with a picture of what Jacob would look like if it should be God’s will to eliminate that feeble beard. She felt she had the right to contemplate the change it would make in Jacob’s appearance, because before she had left the farm for the mission, Jacob Brubacher had been “setting up” with her. There had been moonlight nights when he’d walked home with her from singing school and had stayed with her on the stoop under the fruit trees till very late. Jacob had been against her leaving Ontario.
“Don’t you feel for me,
Mandie?” he’d asked.
And she had answered:
“Ach, Jacob, I feel. But I feel for going to the mission, too.”
“You’ve got it good here,
Mandie. Dod and mom wants us to marry. Dod’ll see I have a fine farm along.”
“Ach, Jacob, you have right. But I feel for going to the mission,” said Amanda stubbornly.
“It’s only crazy nonsense,
Mandie. But I ain’t going to set round with a long mouth on. There’s Annie Bruman.
Likely I’ll set up with her.
Her dod’s got money.”
“You ain’t got me a-scared by saying that, Jacob.”
So Amanda went to the Mennonite mission, over in the Italian quarter of the lake city. Meetings were held in a small shop that was once a saloon. The Sunday school classes met in the cellar back of the coal bins. There was an attic over the shop. That was where Amanda had her sleeping quarters. The lake winds came howling up from the harbor and shook the whole
building in the winter nights, and the grime of the Smoke Belt was thick upon everything. Even Mennonite-Amish scrubbing and polishing could not make things shine.
People came to the mission—tramps, crooks, women of the street. The big bright cross of red electric bulbs that stood on a low pedestal before the door drew them. The cross flashed blindingly and went out, only to flash again. On rainy nights its red reflected gleam made the wet pavements look washed in blood. It stained the snows of winter warm crimson. Something in the huge simplicity of the flashing cross drew them—the motley crowd of hoboes, painted ladies and crooks.
Amanda and Samuel Funk received them. By this time Amanda was used to being laughed at for her strange attire, so she didn’t mind when they laughed. She gave them coffee in heavy cups and bread-and-butter cut thick. Then Samuel Funk’s turn came. He asked them to join in prayer. Samuel Funk’s prayers were long monologues to the stern God of the Mennonites. Few listeners sat through them; one by one they would fade away. Often when Amanda opened her eyes there was nobody left. Their guests were not interested in prayers.
Then Amanda and the other mission folk would wash the cups and saucers and plates, and shake their heads and sigh, thinking of their rival, the Salvation Army, with its lassies in red-and-blue uniforms and its brass and drums. Often when the mission was empty, the street-comer crowds of General Booth’s army waxed large. There was an emotional pull about the robust music that lured away souls to a false salvation, according to Samuel Funk’s views. The human voice was the only music acceptable to heaven, said Samuel Funk. Hard to fight a rivalry so noisy.
But after six months of discouragement, things were looking up. Sometimes as many as half-a-dozen men and women remained to listen to the service. Even Samuel Funk’s prayers were better than facing the wind and snow outside.
Amanda worked hard early and late. She was always on her feet. It wasn’t any wonder that the heels of her boots were worn down by spring so that she had to take them to Tony. And that very night Tessa appeared at the mission. You might have thought she’d come up from the South with the softening weather and the song birds.
TESSA WAS Italo-American. She had all the inherited exotic bloom of Naples and the acquired sophistication of the New World. Tessa’s skirts were scant and clinging; Tessa’s curly hair was bobbed; Tessa’s slender legs had the
exaggerated sheen of rayon stockings; Tessa’s feet were crowded into high-heeled pumps with big tin buckles that flashed in a way that silver could never have flashed; Tessa’s smooth cheeks were coated with dark rouge; her nose and forehead and chin were powdered rachel; and her mouth was a lipsticked geranium. Which gives you no idea at all of Tessa’s wild, delicate, impudent, devilish charm.
She came into the mission and regarded Amanda, head tipped to one side, hands on hips.
“Say,” she enquired pointedly, “for Pete’s sake, where did you get those togs?”
Amanda didn’t answer. Perhaps she didn’t quite understand Tessa’s lingo.
“I sure thought Tony was kidding when he told me about you.”
Amanda spoke then. “You know Tony?”
“Sure I know Tony. And how! I was just down to his place to take my suède pumps and I seen those shoes of yours he was mending. ‘What big Rube belongs to those?’ I says. ‘They belong to a lady, Tessa mia' says Tony. So I blew round here to see if he was kidding. Say, but you’re a scream !”
Amanda might have replied that among the Ebys, Brubachers, Cressmans and Stauffers of Ontario. Tessa’s dress would have been not only a scream but a scandal. But Amanda had a slow tongue, not given to saying hurting things. And besides, even with its exaggerations, Tessa’s appearance was impishly beautiful. That thwarted instinct of Amanda’s that lusted for a celestial blue dress and thrilled at the sight of a young, clean-cut jaw acknowledged it.
“Do you feel for a cup of coffee?” she asked.
“You bet ! Something for nothing. You got my number.”
Tessa drank her coffee looking over the rim of her cup. Her large eyes with their trailing lashes were still busy with the screaming details of Amanda’s garb.
“Some outfit! Gee, wouldn’t it slay you? That get-up would make a scarecrow out of Marlene Dietrich in person. But you’re a good scout just the same, I’ll tell the world. Say how old are you, anyway?”
“Nineteen till October.”
“You look about forty if you ask me. Why don’t you can the grandma’s-shawl stuff and the white nightcap and be yourself? Well, so long, Miss Mennonite. I’ll be seein’ ya.”
Amanda went back for her shoes Saturday night. It was a warm evening with an edge of cold from the Great Lake ice still floating by on its way to Niagara Falls and the sea. In a backyard among garbage and refuse, a forsythia bush was golden with newly-opened lily-shaped flowers.
Amanda stopped in the spring gloaming and looked at it. Her firm lips relaxed into a smile as she thought of the brilliant perennials in the garden in Ontario. It made her happy to know that even among the Plain People color in flowers was right and admirable.
The clouded red of a Welsbach burner with a broken mantle illumined Tony as he worked. Being in business for himself, he consequently had no hours. But from the look on his face it wasn’t business that occupied him. It was pleasure. In one hand he held a small, rubbed, black suède pump to which he was applying some restorative liquid from a bottle on the bench beside him. Gently Tony dabbed and patted with that look of intense pleasure on his face. That was one of Tessa’s shoes. Amanda knew it. She was as sure of it as she was that those which stood in front of Tony, next its refurbished mate, were her own. Nothing in the world of footgear could be more incongruous than that juxtaposition of Amanda’s and Tessa’s shoes. Women who wore shoes like Tessa’s demanded love as their right. Women who wore shoes like Amanda’s had to content themselves with service. Instinctively Amanda felt it. But the Plain People are inarticulate. She never could have put the thought into words.
“Wie gehls?” she said harshly, and produced the cryptic card. She paid Tony and went her way with a new memory of that chiselled profile, fresh and disturbing.
Tony went to mass on Sunday. He went early so he could have the rest of the day to devote to Tessa. Tessa didn’t bother with mass, early or late. She lay in bed until noon. She thought that working all week at the jewellery counter of the Five-and-Ten entitled her to a day off. Tessa was a great inconvenience to the Italian family with whom she boarded, always dipping into the pot of spaghetti at odd hours, but they had given up trying to change her habits.
“Tessa no-good girl,” they said and shook their heads in despair.
Maria and Lucia, who shared the room with her, chattered and laughed as they dressed. They threw pillows at her and shook her. When Tessa resented being disturbed, they laughed and chattered more loudly, pulled off the covers, tickled her in the ribs.
But when they were gone, Tessa always reclaimed the covers, curled herself up into a little ball and went back to sleep. She dreamed always of a life of complete idleness in which cars, clothes, and jewellery were mixed with dancing, movies and nut sundaes. Not many of these things would come her way, she knew, if she married Tony as she’d promised. But maybe she wouldn’t marry him. Certainly
not if she got a good chance at the other things. She liked Tony’s adoration and Tony’s kisses. When he had washed the grime of cobbling off him. he was some looker. Besides, he made money in that dingy shop of his; more than you’d think possible, to look at it. He wasn’t a tightwad, either. He spent his earnings freely. He wasn’t going to make her live back of the shop, as so many Italian families lived. They’d have a two-room flat with electric lights and a gas range. And he was buying a radio on the installment plan.
AMANDA secretly, and Tessa openly, being interested in the same man, found themselves drawn together by that psychological process that is partly jealousy, partly admiration, and partly a similarity of taste. Tessa came frequently to the mission.
“Tony likes you, Mandie,” Tessa would say. “He says you’re good. He gets mad at me when I laugh at your clothes.”
Amanda would say nothing. But her heart would beat faster and a slow flush would rise under her fair skin and spread to her pale blue eyes.
“Ain’t you and Tony keepin’ company?” she’d asked.
And Tessa had answered: “Sure!”
Well, what difference did it make to Amanda?
“Why don’t you fetch him to the mission along, too, Tessa?”
Tessa took out a cheap vanity case and began touching up her lips.
“Oh, don’t get me to do your dirty work! Ask him to come yourself if you want him,” she said, as she smoothed her make-up into place with her little finger.
So Amanda went to ask him. To acquaint a soul such as she assumed Tony’s to be with the strict creed of the Plain People was a thing which appealed to Amanda. Deliberately she blinded herself to any personal aspect of the question.
But instead of saving Tony’s soul, she perhaps lost her own. For above Tony’s head as he worked was a picture of a man in a soft white shirt open at the throat—a man with sleek hair and arched brows and eyes filled with dreams, a face of mingled strength and sweetness that once charmed the hearts of many thousands of women. Amanda had been trained to turn her eyes away from pictures. She had been taught that photography was a deadly sin. It broke the Second Commandment. “The likeness of anything in the heavens above or in the earth beneath or in the waters under the earth, thou shalt not make.” But she looked from Tony bending over his work, to the picture over his head, and back again to Tony, startled by the resemblance.
“Likely that’s your brudder,” said Amanda.
Tony stared at her. She was good, this woman in the strange dress that set her apart as nuns are set apart, but was it possible she did not know that face? Pie laughed.
“You not know Valentino?” He pointed to one of the posters leaning against the window. It read: “Valentino Week. Revival of his last and greatest picture.” To Amanda the words meant nothing.
“He great actor,” explained Tony. “You go to movie. You see him.”
“I don’t feel for movies,” said Amanda severely.
Tony laughed again. “You only like mission? You think movie no good? You see Valentino. You laugh. You cry. You say ‘great actor.’ You go to movie to see Valentino; I go to mission. Si? All right?”
Amanda to go to a movie even to bring another soul to the mission? She had heard of bargains with the devil. No good ever came of them. The devil always won.
He won now. Bewildered, frightened, like one in an evil dream, she stole inside late in the evening when the theatre was dark. As she took her seat in the back row, she saw down there below her a white horse go plunging through desert sands—a white horse and on its back, in as strange a dress as the Mennonite habit would be to Arabian eyes, Tony ! For a full minute Amanda was sure it was Tony until she thought of the picture that had been pinned against the wall of Tony’s cobbler’s shop and remembered it. was one Rudolph Valentino. But she preferred to think it was Tony. Tony riding through the desert; Tony gallantly lighting. Ach, it was sinful to resist, but it was Tony, Tony. Tony triumphing against odds; Tony loving. Oh, especially Tony loving! She sat through the picture twice. It was almost midnight when she got back to the mission. She had sinned. The devil had won.
BUT TONY kept to his bargain. He came to the mission each Tuesday with Tessa. He drank the hot strong coffee that Amanda brewed, and he stayed through Samuel Funk’s long, long prayer, of which he understood nothing.
Amanda looked forward to Tuesdays. She was conscious of a restlessness, an excited breathlessness as evening approached, that dulled into disappointment if Tony and Tessa were late, and changed suddenly into peace and satisfaction when they came in together. For weeks and weeks they had not missed a Tuesday. And now it was winter again, the early frozen winter of the Great Lakes. Already the big lake freighters were struggling into harbor sheathed in ice. The days were a series of snow flurries interspersed with feeble flashes of smoke-dimmed sunshine. And the sixty-mile gales roared up from the waterfront and pierced even Amanda’s thick, sensible cloak. Tessa, in her flimsy garments and her black plush coat covered with a pattern of white to imitate the markings of civet, insisted that she wasn’t cold. But she shivered, and her nose showed a pinched pink through its thick coating of rachel compact.
It was Tony’s first experience of a Great Lake winter. As he worked in his shop, scarcely warmed by the gas stove near his bench, he thought of Naples and its roses and sunshine. If it were not for Tessa he would go back.
“But when I am with you, Tessa mia, I do not miss Napoli. You are my roses. You are my beciutiful sun,” he told her. “When will you marry me, carissima?”
“Oh, some day maybe,” Tessa would say. “Anyway, Tony, I’ll kiss you.”
Continued on page 39
Continued from page 9—Starts on page 7
And, kissing Tessa’s little lipsticked mouth, Tony forgot Italy, being in heaven. Even Italia was a poor place compared to Paradise.
WITHOUT HER street bonnet, in her close-fitting, white prayer-covering, Amanda had the gauntly gentle look of an Italian primitive. Ransome Cary had never been keen for painting madonnas. His specialty was scantily draped girls of a delicate long-limbed loveliness. But as he sat with the crooks and hoboes and women of the street in the Mennonite mission and watched Amanda busy with the coffee, the inspiration for a picture came rushing to his brain, a picture so different from anything he had done before that people would be compelled to stop saying that Ranny Cary’s stuff was fit only for magazine covers. Well, he didn’t have to paint magazine covers if he didn’t want to, he’d tell the world. He had five thousand bucks a year in his own right. Grandma Cary had seen to that before pneumonia bumped her off. Why not take to madonnas for a change? Change was right ! He’d call the first one “The Madonna of the Clumsy Cups,” and it should combine the unearthly simplicity of the early Italians with the stark realism of the Twentieth Century.
All through Samuel Funk’s twenty-minute prayer, Ransome Cary studied Amanda as she sat. with closed eyes and clasped hands, a stolid, roughly chiselled countenance irradiated by some inner intensity. A beautifully passionate piece of music played on a crude, homemade instrument, he thought. That was the idea he must convey, to do her justice. Here was a break ! He was glad he’d gone slumming. He pulled from his pocket a pad and pencil and began to sketch rapidly.
He sat through the hymn with which the meeting ended—a slovenly performance of drawling, discordant, cracked and flatting voices quavering after Samuel Funk’s deep bass without benefit of accompaniment. He winced but stayed. Then he approached Amanda.
Ransome Cary was not the first representative of the higher social circle that had strayed into the mission out of curiosity, but that sort usually faded away with the rest during Samuel Funk’s prayer. Amanda had never before conversed with a raccooncoated, suède-gloved, grey-spatted gentleman. He had a dark, lively face, and a tinyblack mustache. He was distinctly person-
able, but Amanda felt nothing of the emotion which flooded her whole being when she looked at Tony. In speechless horror she listened to the impious proposition of sitting for him in his studio, and when he sought to gain her interest by showing her the sketch he had made of her, she snatched it from his hand and tore it across again and again.
“What did you do that for?” he demanded as the pieces fluttered round him.
“Ach!“ exclaimed' Amanda, unable to express her condemnation. “Ach, ach, ach! I don’t know right how to say it.”
Someone said .it for her, namely, Tessa. Spats, suède gloves and a raccoon coat had failed to thrill Amanda, but they had a definite effect upon Tessa. She put her tapering, none-too-clean little hand on Ranny Cary’s sleeve and turned him toward her.
“Mandie’s folks think it’s a whale of a sin to have their pictures taken. They got a hunch if they do they’ll go plumb to hell. They stand for a lot of silly old junk. Get on to how they don’t have an organ or anything with their singing? No jazz bands in theirs—not on your life! Or oil paintings, either, if you don’t want to wear horns instead of wings when you kick off. But you should worry. Mandie wouldn’t make a very swell picture anyway. How about me?” Fie smiled at her. Show me the man who wouldn’t smile at Tessa. But he shook his head. He didn’t want to do magazine covers for ever.
Tessa pouted. “Don’t you like me?” she asked.
He smiled again. “Sure, kid, I like you fine. Maybe I can use you some time.” But it was to Amanda he gave his card. “If you change your mind, let me know. I’ll give you two bucks an hour.”
The offer was dazzling, but Amanda was unyielding. She’d risked her soul for Tony, but that was different. “Likely I won’t change my mind,” she said firmly. She held the piece of pasteboard gingerly. Tessa crowded close to her and read the address over her shoulder before it was tom into little pieces, to join the sketch.
TT WAS THE first zero night of the winter. A Too cold for snow except that small, fine variety that stings like little bullets when it hits your face. Amanda’s coffee pots were steaming on their gas rings. A pleasant aroma came from them. There was a large attendance at the mission. The down-and-
outs responded to the big, warm, friendly cross and the scalding coffee. There was something, after all, to be said for the virtuous life.
“There’s chust twenty-six people here tonight. Twice what chenerally is,” exulted Samuel Funk.
But Amanda found it impossible to share his joy. She regarded the empty canister from which she had just taken the last spoonful of coffee.
“To feed so many we have not enough. Coffee is all,” she announced gloomily. For two weeks now she had seen neither Tessa nor Tony. Amanda had not realized before how empty life would be without them. Like the coffee, life was all.
Samuel Funk was in the middle of his prayer. Amanda’s eyes were shut, but they flew open when she heard somebody enter the room. The always recurring hope that any late-comer might be Tony caused them
to misbehave. One quick glance and she closed her eyes again in happiness. That snow-covered figure was Tony. He had come at last. She could give her undivided attention to God now.
Tony sat slumped in his seat after the others had risen. Amanda approached him.
“Ach, Tony, where is Tessa?” Not that it mattered so much to Amanda, but she sensed that it mattered greatly to Tony.
He shook his head despairingly. “I not know.”
What a white, tense Tony with ail the sunshine gone; a Tony unshaved and trembling, a new tragic Tony that went straight to Amanda’s heart to join the gay, smiling Tony that was there already !
“Set down by me and tell,” she said.
Tony looked at Amanda’s earnest, troubled face. She was kind, but how to express to one who could not speak Italian the terrible fear that was tearing his heart?
“She not at Five-and-Ten. She not with Maria and Lucia. They laugh. They say Tessa got new job. I say where and they write on paper.” He fumbled in his pocket and produced a crumpled card. “Quick I go. I ask cop on comer. I find. I knock on door and say, ‘Give me Tessa.’ They say Tessa not there. They shut door.” He put his head down on his arms and sobbed in the unabashed abandonment of the Latin races.
This exhibition of emotion distressed Tessa. Among the Plain People such things were not done. “Don’t be a cry-bubby, Tony,” she admonished. “Everyone is goppin’ at you. Shame yourself!”
But Tony wept on.
Amanda examined the soiled bit of pasteboard. “The Crofton Studios, 18 Montgomery Avenue.” Where had she seen that address before? Why, of course! She remembered. She couldn’t exactly piece together the evidence, it was too far outside her range of experience. But that didn’t matter. The important thing was that Tony was crying like a baby who had lost a beloved toy. She must find it and return it to him.
“You sure you have right, Tony? How do you know Tessa is there?”
Southern rage blazed up in Tony’s eyes and dried his tears.
“You think I not know my Tessa’s laugh? Before they shut the door I heard it. Days I not work. Nights I not sleep. All the time I hear that laugh of Tessa. Always I think I go to that place and find her ...”
He stopped, possessed by some wild thought.
“And when you find Tessa, what will you do then?” asked Amanda soothingly.
“Then first I will kill Tessa and afterward me!” said Tony with fierce simplicity.
MURDER and suicide. Abhorrent to all right-minded citizens. Doubly abhorrent to Amanda, drilled in the Plain People’s doctrine of non-resistance and hatred of violence. She was shocked and frightened. But not for one minute did she allow Tony to see it. She scolded him roundly.
“Do you think you are a soldier or whatever?” she asked sternly. “You will kill nobody. That’s crazy nonsense. Stay here as long as you otherwise can. After I’ve done the redding up, I will go and fetch Tessa for you myself.”
Tony’s hands flew out and clasped hers. He flashed from tragedy to joy.
“Amanda, you good—like the Blessed Madonna herself.”
Amanda’s lips were tightly closed. Through the emotional uplift of hearing Tony’s praise, the common-sense logic of a practical nature asserted itself. All you had to do to make a man call you good was to give him what he wanted, was the bitter unexpressed thought in Amanda’s mind.
“I ain’t good, Tony; I’m chust used to hoppin’ for people. Likely I’ll always hop for somebody.” She stopped there, but her thoughts went on trailing after her words like a sunbeam. To hop for ever for Tony would be sweet.
Redding-up being over, out into the storm went Amanda. It wasn’t so cold now. The snow was coming down faster. Dry and powdery, it was being piled into drifts by the ceaseless lake wind. There were no trolley lines near Montgomery Avenue, but when an empty taxi pulled up to the curb expectantly, Amanda motioned it away with an awkward gesture. The devil was tempting her again.
“No, no, I don’t feel for ridin’. If God had meant that folks should go along so fast as an automobile, He would have put engines in their insides. Ach, go away, go away !”
So she walked through the drifts with her long skirts flapping around her cowhide boots; with the wind cutting her cheeks and stiffening her lips; with her thoughts in a turmoil.
“Ach, but I am a dumbhead gettin’ Tessa back for him when I feel for him already. He said I was good. Likely he’d come to feel for me if Tessa didn’t come back no more.” She knew her thoughts were wild. She knew that among the Plain People it was a sin 1)0 marry out of your own particular
branch. Then how much more sinful to I think of marrying Tony. But romantic love! had entered Amanda’s heart and the repressions of generations had given way. Thinking of the pain of restoring Tessa to Tony, tears oozed out of Amanda’s pale eyes and froze on her chapped cheeks.
Montgomery Avenue. Pretentious old houses overshadowed by apartments with lighted windows rising high above them. Amanda stamped the snow from her boots in the thickly carpeted gold-and-black lobby of the Crofton Studios. She did not trust herself to the elevators. If God had intended folks to go straight up in the air like that, He would have given them wings like birds. Besides, she was awed by the elevator boys in maroon and gold. She walked up the six flights of stairs to Apartment F7. Without the formality of knocking, in accordance with the etiquette to which she was accustomed in Ontario, she pulled the door open and went in.
RANNY CARY’S Thursday evening class - was over—a dilettante group picked from his own social set, the modern talented youth receiving an allowance from affluent parents and dabbling in writing, painting ¡ and music as an excuse for loafing. Two hours of drawing from a model and then to the real business of the evening, a party. Ranny’s studio was a good place for a party and Ranny’s booze of the very best.
Walls higher than the walls of any meeting house in Ontario rose above Amanda. They were hung with strange bright fabrics on which swords and daggers and firearms and curious knives gleamed. Deep divans and couches were pushed against the walls. Blazing logs roared in a wide fireplace. Huge cushions had been thrown down carelessly on the Oriental rugs, and men and girls had thrown themselves as carelessly upon the cushions. Their paint-smeared smocks of orange, green and blue thrilled Amanda with that wicked sense of delight from which all1 her life she had prayed to be delivered.
Into that group she walked. Ungodly it was, she knew that. But nothing of the profane beauty of it all escaped her. Those pictures that leaned against the walls and stood on easels breaking the Second Commandment—they fascinated Amanda only a little less than did these people who sprawled on the rugs and cushions, men and girls smoking, reclining in unconcerned attitudes of easy familiarity with cocktail glasses on the floor at their side. Shameful—those arms around necks, those feminine heads leaning ¡ against masculine shoulders. This was different from the Plain People’s accepted privileges of courting and setting-up. A dangerous, stirring thing. Amanda’s knees trembled.
Then high above everything she saw a kind of platform, and on it, muffled in thin, gold tissue, Tessa. Tessa unbelievably lovely and delicate without her disfiguring make-up. Tessa surprisingly possessed of a new refinement, a brilliance. Every Italian woman has in her veins the blood of the classic élite, so they say. Looking at Tessa, you could well believe it. Amanda’s stolid Teutonic features and pale blue eyes were by comparison more than ever commonplace and plebeian. But if Amanda had heard anyone waxing eloquent about the latent patrician qualities of the Amish and Mennonite groups scattered over the world, she would have labelled it “crazy nonsense.” She belonged to the Plain People.
She stared at Tessa in astonishment, at her bare feet, at her golden robe. Tessa was lying back in a big throne-like chair. She was relaxed and indifferent and smiling. The golden robe was slipping off her shoulder and down over her breast. In one of her little hands a cigarette ribboned blue smoke. And below her, laughing at her, making light of her loveliness, a man in a crimson smock, the man whose street costume was a raccoon coat and spats. Amanda recognized him. A semi-circle of easels stood around the platform, and on each easel Amanda saw a study of Tessa. Her horror-stricken gaze rested upon them unbelievingly. Tessa had allowed those girls, those men, to behold her naked !
Two swift, clumsy steps brought Amanda into the middle of the room. Sucli an apparition had never been seen in a place like that before.
“You ought to shame yourself,” cried Amanda, loudly, harshly, as Mennonltes do, “making wicked pictures of Tessa with no clothes on. You ought to shame yourself! And you ought to shame yourself for lettin’ them do it, 'Fessa. You settin’ here in this place of sin and lettin’ them look at you like that, and all the time Tony chumpin’ round because he feels for you. It don’t give many men like Tony. I’m goin’ to fetch you back to him.”
She turned and went up the three steps of the model throne, clumpity clump, tore Tessa from her throne, and clumped down again with Tessa in her arms. Holding her there, she addressed herself to Ranny Cary.
“You might chust as well tell me where her clothes are, ’cause no matter who says I can’t do it, I’m going to fetch her back to Tony!”
NOBODY 'FRIED to stop her. It made slight difference to Ranny Cary’s gang what happened to the little wop. They were tired of her already. They were distinctly amused and intrigued by the situation. 'Fessa, struggling and scolding in the arms of this astonishing apparition, was a choice hit of comedy, the best Ranny Cary had ever staged.
“Atta, girl!” they cried. “We bet on the lady in the chapeau. There’s the gong for the ninth round. Come on. Forget it and drink up.”
Amanda didn’t hear them. She was occupied with Tessa.
“It don’t do you no good whatever to try to get away,” she panted through her tightly closed lips. “I promised Tony I’d fetch you back to him, and I’m going to do it if I have to fetch you back dead !”
Which, if Tessa had understood more of the Plain People’s creed, she would have known was a distinct bluff.
“I’ll run away again tomorrow!” sobbed Tessa, her little teeth making a mark on Amanda’s wrist.
“Maybe you will, maybe you won’t. Maybe by tomorrow you’ll be married to Tony already,” said Amanda. And nobody would have guessed the black despair that was on her as she said it. “Likely no matter how far you run, I shall get you and fetch I you home along to Tony,”
In the black and sea-green bathroom with its sunken tub and its fittings of black marble and jade-green metals, Amanda ' watched 'Fessa sulkily getting into her clothes—a thin orchid garment of rayon I and an abbreviated baronet satin slip of I peach. Amanda had seen similar garments displayed in shop windows, but never before anyone undressed who wore them.
I They were immodest, shameful, inadequate,
! but ach, they were beautiful. .She compared them with her own substantial petticoats and cotton underthings. She’d be ashamed to dress like. Tessa, but yes, oh yes, they were beautiful, like Tessa’s shoes she had seen Tony smoothing. Silly, wicked, unpractical—but that’s what men like. Not Mennonite men, of course, men like Jacob ! Brubacher, but men like Tony. The women they loved were silly, wicked, unpractical.
She marched with Tessa by her side through the drinking, smoking group. They eyed her almost respectfully now.
“Cut out the wisecracks,” Ranny had told them half angrily. “That Amanda’s a good egg.”
He opened the door for them. “I’ve ordered a taxi for you. It’s waiting.”
“We’ll walk,” announced Amanda.
“Walk nothing. It’s too far. The snow’s too deep for Tessa.”
“Ach, you think I’m such a dumbhead as not to know that? Over what she can’t walk, likely I can carry her.”
She was as good as her word. Even better. She made those snowdrifts her allies. Over the biggest drift of all she stopped and delivered her ultimatum.
“You feel for Tony, don’t you?” she asked.•
“Oh, yeah. I suppose he’s all right,” said 'Fessa without enthusiasm.
“Then you marry him till tomorrow,” Amanda commanded. “If you don’t, likely I’ll chust leave you in the snow and you’ll freeze.” She held 'Fessa above the drift threateningly. “Promise!”
It was then that Tessa capitulated. She clung to Amanda’s neck like a frightened kitten.
“I promise, I promise!” wailed Tessa. "Oh, don’t let me drop, Amanda. Please!” “No, Tessa,” said Amanda, “I won’t let you drop. Likely all the rest of the way I’ll carry you.”
She did; a panting, exhausted figure in the crimson light of the cross, straight into Tony’s arms. Whether the gift of Tessa was exactly a thing to be thankful for, may be doubted. Amanda doubted it herself. But, looking at Tony’s face as he held Tessa in his arms and poured out his love in Italian, Amanda thought that anything which made a human being as happy as that must have a value. A lump rose in her throat.
“I was going back to Ontario till the spring, but I guess I’ll go till tomorrow,” she said apropos of nothing. “And I won’t come back no more.”
JACOB CAME to see her the night she got J back. She saw him in the moonlight, clumping along under the ice-covered trees, bulky in his tailless coat and ugly wide hat. Pathetically unkempt with his straggling beard that made him look so like a goat. “You come back, Mandie.”
“Uh, huh, Jacob.”
“I didn’t set up with Annie, Mandie.”.
“I wasn’t a-scared you would.”
“I’m settin’ up with you again, Mandie. Dod says it’s time I was married.”
“Uh, huh, Jacob.”
She allowed him to hug her close as the Plain People hug. She was being courted. Soon she’d begin to get her hope chest ready. She was going to marry Jacob, but her thought went straying to Tony.
“You are good, Amanda,” Tony had said. “Like the Blessed Madonna herself.”
A wild thing to say to her. But she smiled a little, remembering, even while Jacob’s orthodox Amish beard tickled her cheek and mouth.
“You feel for me now, Mandie,” stated Jacob with confidence.
“Uh, huh, I feel for you, Jacob.”
“I feel for you, Mandie.”
She accepted his statement. But would Jacob feel for her if he knew that she had broken the Second Commandment? That she’d gone to the place of a man who painted girls with no clothes on? That she’d been to a movie? She felt humble, grateful that Jacob still cared. She allowed him to fondle her roughly. Among the Plain People the woman does not expect consideration. Amanda was content.
The city had dangers; terrible, sweet dangers. She was home now. She was safe. As Jacob’s wife she would be safe. Safe as other Mennonite wives were safe, with much housework and many children. In Amanda’s thought of Jacob there was no expectation of love. Not the love she’d seen in the movies; not the love she’d seen in the eyes of Tony when he looked at Tessa. That was not the way of the Plain People.