Kate Douglas Wiggin
Part 4 out of 4
o'clock and quite dark. It had been raining during the late afternoon and the
trees were still dripping drearily. Hetty came upon Nathan so suddenly, that,
although he had been in her thoughts, she gave a frightened little cry when he
drew her peremptorily under the shadow of the branches. The rules that govern
the Shaker Community are very strict, but in reality the true Believer never
thinks of them as rules, nor is trammeled by them. They are fixed habits of
the blood, as common, as natural, as sitting or standing, eating or drinking.
No Brother is allowed to hold any lengthy interview with a Sister, nor to
work, walk, or drive with her alone; but these protective customs, which all
are bound in honor to keep, are too much a matter of everyday life to be
strange or irksome.
"I must speak to you, Hetty," whispered Nathan. "I cannot bear it any longer
alone. What shall we do?"
"Do?" echoed Hetty, trembling.
"Yes, _do_." There was no pretense of asking her if she loved or suffered, or
lived in torture and suspense. They had not uttered a word to each other, but
their eyes had "shed meanings."
"You know we can't go on like this," he continued rapidly. "We can't eat their
food, stay alongside of them, pray their prayers and act a lie all the time,
"Nay, we can't!" said Hetty. "Oh, Nathan, shall we confess all and see if they
will help us to resist temptation? I know that's what Susanna would want me to
do, but oh! I should dread it."
"Nay, it is too late," Nathan answered drearily. "They could not help us, and
we should be held under suspicion forever after."
"I feel so wicked and miserable and unfaithful, I don't know what to do!"
"Yee, so do I!" the lad answered. "And I feel bitter against my father, too.
He brought me here to get rid of me, because he did n't dare leave me on
somebody's doorstep. He ought to have come back when I was grown a man and
asked me if I felt inclined to be a Shaker, and if I was good enough to be
"And my stepfather would n't have me in the house, so my mother had to give me
away; but they're both dead, and I'm alone in the world, though I've never
felt it, because the Sisters are so kind. Now they will hate me--though they
don't hate anybody."
"You've got me, Hetty! We must go away and be married. We'd better go tonight
to the minister in Albion."
"What if he would n't do it?"
"Why should n't he? Shakers take no vows, though I feel bound, hand and foot,
out of gratitude. If any other two young folks went to him, he would marry
them; and if he refuses, there are two other ministers in Albion, besides two
more in Buryfield, five miles farther. If they won't marry us tonight, I'll
leave you in some safe home and we 'll walk to Portland tomorrow. I'm young
and strong, and I know I can earn our living somehow."
"But we have n't the price of a lodging or a breakfast between us," Hetty said
tearfully. "Would it be sinful to take some of my basketwork and send back the
money next week?"
"Yee, it would be so," Nathan answered sternly. "The least we can do is to go
away as empty-handed as we came. I can work for our breakfast."
"Oh, I can't bear to disappoint Eldress Abby," cried Hetty, breaking anew into
tears. "She'll say we've run away to live on the lower plane after agreeing to
crucify Nature and follow the angelic life!"
"I know; but there are five hundred people in Albion all living in marriage,
and we shan't be the only sinners!" Nathan argued. "Oh, Sister Hetty, dear
Hetty, keep up your spirits and trust to me!"
Nathan's hand stole out and met Hetty's in its warm clasp, the first hand
touch that the two ignorant young creatures had ever felt. Nathan's knowledge
of life had been a journey to the Canterbury Shakers in New Hampshire with
Brother Issachar; Hetty's was limited to a few drives into Albion village, and
half a dozen chats with the world's people who came to the Settlement to buy
"I am not able to bear the Shaker life!" sighed Nathan. "Elder Gray allows
there be such!"
"Nor I," murmured Hetty. "Eldress Harriet knows I am no saint!"
Hetty's head was now on Nathan's shoulder. The stiff Shaker cap had resisted
bravely, but the girl's head had yielded to the sweet proximity. Youth called
to youth triumphantly; the Spirit was unheard, and all the theories of
celibacy and the angelic life that had been poured into their ears vanished
into thin air. The thick shade of the spruce tree hid the kiss that would have
been so innocent, had they not given themselves to the Virgin Church; the
drip, drip, drip of the branches on their young heads passed unheeded.
Then, one following the other silently along the highroad, hurrying along in
the shadows of the tall trees, stealing into the edge of the woods, or hiding
behind a thicket of alders at the fancied sound of a footstep or the distant
rumble of a wagon, Nathan and Hetty forsook the faith of Mother Ann and went
out into the world as Adam and Eve left the garden, with the knowledge of good
and evil implanted in their hearts. The voice of Eldress Abby pursued Hetty in
her flight like the voice in a dream. She could hear its clear impassioned
accents, saying, "The children of this world marry; but the children of the
resurrection do not marry, for they are as the angels." The solemn tones grew
fainter and fainter as Hetty's steps led her farther and farther away from the
quiet Shaker village and its drab-clad Sisters, and at last they almost died
into silence, because Nathan's voice was nearer and Nathan's voice was dearer.
There was no work in the herb-garden now, but there was never a moment from
dawn till long after dusk when the busy fingers of the Shaker Sisters were
still. When all else failed there was the knitting: socks for the Brothers and
stockings for the Sisters and socks and stockings of every size for the
children. One of the quaint sights of the Settlement to Susanna was the clump
of young Sisters on the porch of the girls' building, knitting, knitting, in
the afternoon sun. Even little Shaker Jane and Mary, Maria and Lucinda, had
their socks in hand, and plied their short knitting-needles soberly and not
unskillfully. The sight of their industry incited the impetuous Sue to effort,
and under the patient tutelage of Sister Martha she mastered the gentle art.
Susanna never forgot the hour when, coming from her work in the seed-room, she
crossed the grass with a message to Martha, and saw the group of children and
girls on the western porch, a place that caught every ray of afternoon sun,
the last glint of twilight, and the first hint of sunset glow. Sister Martha
had been reading the Sabbath-School lesson for the next day, and as Susanna
neared the building, Martha's voice broke into a hymn. Falteringly the girls'
voices followed the lead, uncertain at first of words or tune, but gaining
courage and strength as they went on:--
"As the waves of the mighty ocean
Gospel love we will circulate,
And as we give, in due proportion,
We of the heavenly life partake.
Heavenly Life, Glorious Life,
Regenerating Gospel Life,
It leadeth away from all sin and strife."
The clear, innocent treble sounded sweetly in the virgin stillness and
solitude of the Settlement, and as Susanna drew closer she stopped under a
tree to catch the picture--Sister Martha, grave, tall, discreet, singing with
all her soul and marking time with her hands, so accustomed to the upward and
downward movement of the daily service. The straight, plain dresses were as
fresh and smooth as perfect washing could make them, and the round childlike
faces looked quaint and sweet with the cropped hair tucked under the stiff
little caps. Sue was seated with Mary and Jane on the steps, and Susanna saw
with astonishment that her needles were moving to and fro and she was knitting
as serenely and correctly as a mother in Israel; singing, too, in a delicate
little treble that was like a skylark's morning note. Susanna could hear her
distinctly as she delightedly flung out the long words so dear to her soul and
so difficult to dull little Jane and Mary:--
Regenerating Gospel Life,
It leadeth away from all sin and strife."
Jane's cap was slightly unsettled, causing its wearer to stop knitting now
and then and pull it forward or push it back; and in one of these little
feminine difficulties Susanna saw Sue reach forward and deftly transfer the
cap to her own head. Jane was horrified, but rather slow to wrath and equally
slow in ingenuity. Sue looked a delicious Shaker with her delicate face, her
lovely eyes, and her yellow hair grown into soft rings; and quite intoxicated
with her cap, her knitting, and the general air of holiness so unexpectedly
emanating from her, she moved her little hands up and down, as the tune rose
and fell, in a way that would have filled Eldress Abby with joy. Susanna's
heart beat fast, and she wondered for a moment, as she went back to her room,
whether she could ever give Sue a worldly childhood more free from danger than
the life she was now living. She found letters from Aunt Louisa and Jack on
reaching her room, and they lay in her lap under a pile of towels, to be read
and reread while her busy needle flew over the coarse crash. Sue stole in
quietly, kissed her mother's cheek, and sat down on her stool by the window,
marveling, with every "under" of the needle and "over" of the yarn, that it
was she, Sue Hathaway, who was making a real stocking.
Jack's pen was not that of an especially ready writer, but he had a practical
way of conveying considerable news. His present contributions, when freed from
their phonetic errors and spelled in Christian fashion, read somewhat as
Father says I must write to you every week, even if I make him do without, so
I will. I am well, and so is Aunt Louisa, and any boy that lives with her has
to toe the mark, I tell you; but she is good and has fine things to eat every
meal. What did Sue get for her birthday? I got a book from father and one from
Aunt Louisa and the one from you that you told her to buy. It is queer that
people will give a boy books when he has only one knife, and that a broken
one. There's a book prize to be given at the school, and I am pretty afraid I
will get that, too; it would be just my luck. Teachers think about nothing but
books and what good they do, but I heard of a boy that had a grand knife with
five sharp blades and a corkscrew, and in a shipwreck he cut all the ropes, so
the sail came down that was carrying them on to the rocks, and then by boring
a hole with his corkscrew all the water leaked out of the ship that had been
threatening to sink the sailors. I could use a little pocket money, as Aunt
Louisa keeps me short.
... I have been spending Sunday with father, and had a pretty good time, not
so very. Father will take me about more when he stops going to the store,
which will be next week for good. The kitchen floor is new painted, and Ellen
says it sticks, and Aunt Louisa is going to make Ellen clean house in case you
come home. Do you like where you are? Our teacher told the girls' teacher it
seemed a long stay for any one who had a family, and the boys at school call
me a half orphan and say my mother has left me and so my father has to board
me in the country. My money is run out again. I sat down in a puddle this
afternoon, but it dried up pretty quick and did n't hurt my clothes, so no
more from your son
This was the sort of message that had been coming to Susanna of late, bringing
up little pictures of home duties and responsibilities, homely tasks and
trials. "John giving up the store for good"; what did that mean? Had he gone
from bad to worse in the solitude that she had hoped might show him the
gravity of his offenses, the error of his ways? In case she should die, what
then would become of the children? Would Louisa accept the burden of Jack, for
whom she had never cared? Would the Shakers take Sue? She would be safe;
perhaps she would always be happy; but brother and sister would be divided and
brought up as strangers. Would little Sue, grown to big Sue, say some time or
other, "My mother renounced the world for herself, but what right had she to
renounce it for me? Why did she rob me of the dreams of girlhood and the
natural hopes of women, when I was too young to give consent?" These and other
unanswerable questions continually drifted through Susanna's mind, disturbing
its balance and leaving her like a shuttlecock bandied to and fro between
"Mardie," came a soft little voice from across the room; "Mardie, what is a
"Where did you hear that long word, Sue?" asked Susanna, rousing herself from
"'T is n't so long as 'regenerating' and more easier."
"Regenerating means 'making over,' you know."
"There'd ought to be children's words and grownup words,--that's what I
think," said Sue, decisively; "but what does 'backslider' mean?"
"A backslider is one who has been climbing up a hill and suddenly begins to
"Does n't his feet take hold right, or why does he slip?"
"Perhaps he can't manage his feet;--perhaps they just won't climb." 295
"Yes, or p'raps he just does n't want to climb any more; but it must be
frightensome, sliding backwards."
"I suppose it is."
"Is it wicked?"
"Why, yes, it is, generally; perhaps always."
"Brother Nathan and Sister Hetty were backsliders; Sister Tabitha said so. She
told Jane never to speak their names again any more than if they was dead."
"Then you had better not speak of them, either."
"There's so many things better not to speak of in the world, sometimes I think
't would be nicer to be an angel."
"Nicer, perhaps, but one has to be very good to be an angel."
"Backsliders could n't be angels, I s'pose?"
"Not while they were backsliders; but perhaps they'd begin to climb again, and
then in time they might grow to be angels."
"I should n't think likely," remarked Sue, decisively, clicking her needles as
one who could settle most spiritual problems in a jiffy. "I think the sliding
kind is diff'rent from the climbing kind, and they don't make easy angels."
A long pause followed this expression of opinion, this simple division of the
human race, at the start, into sheep and goats. Then presently the untiring
voice broke the stillness again.
"Nathan and Hetty slid back when they went away from here. Did we backslide
when we left Fardie and Jack?"
"I'm not sure but that we did," said poor Susanna.
"There's children-Shakers, and brother-and-sister Shakers, but no father-and-
"No; they think they can do just as much good in the world without being
mothers and fathers."
"Do you think so?"
"Ye-es, I believe I do."
"Well, are you a truly Shaker, or can't you be till you wear a cap?"
"I'm not a Shaker yet, Sue."
"You're just only a mother?"
"Yes, that's about all."
"Maybe we'd better go back to where there's not so many Sisters and more
mothers, so you 'll have somebody to climb togedder with?"
"I could climb here, Sue, and so could you."
"Yes, but who'll Fardie and Jack climb with? I wish they'd come and see us.
Brother Ansel would make Fardie laugh, and Jack would love farmwork, and we'd
all be so happy. I miss Fardie awfully! He did n't speak to me much, but I
liked to look at his curly hair and think how lovely it would be if he did
take notice of me and play with me."
A sob from Susanna brought Sue, startled, to her side.
"You break my heart, Sue! You break it every day with the things you say.
Don't you love me, Sue?"
"More'n tongue can tell!" cried Sue, throwing herself into her mother's arms.
"Don't cry, darling Mardie! I won't talk any more, not for days and days! Let
me wipe your poor eyes. Don't let Elder Gray see you crying, or he'll think
I've been naughty. He's just going in downstairs to see Eldress Abby. Was it
wrong what I said about backsliding, or what, Mardie? We'll help each udder
climb, an' then we'll go home an' help poor lonesome Fardie; shall we?"
"Abby!" called Elder Gray, stepping into the entry of the Office Building.
"Yee, I'm coming," Eldress Abby answered from the stairway. "Go right out and
sit down on the bench by the door, where I can catch a few minutes' more light
for my darning; the days seem to be growing short all to once. Did Lemuel have
a good sale of basket-work at the mountains? Rosetta has n't done so well for
years at Old Orchard. We seem to be prospering in every material direction,
Daniel, but my heart is heavy somehow, and I have to be instant in prayer to
keep from discouragement."
"It has n't been an altogether good year with us spiritually," confessed
Daniel; "perhaps we needed chastening."
"If we needed it, we've received it," Abby ejaculated, as she pushed her
darning-ball into the foot of a stocking. "Nothing has happened since I came
here thirty years ago that has troubled me like the running away of Nathan and
Hetty. If they had been new converts, we should have thought the good seed had
n't got fairly rooted, but those children were brought to us when Nathan was
eleven and Hetty nine."
"I well remember, for the boy's father and the girl's mother came on the same
train; a most unusual occurrence to receive two children in one day."
"I have cause to remember Hetty in her first month, for she was as wild as a
young hawk. She laughed in meeting the first Sunclay, and when she came back,
I told her to sit behind me in silence for half an hour while I was reading my
Bible. 'Be still now, Hetty, and labor to repent,' I said. When the time was
up, she said in a meek little mite of a voice, 'I think I'm least in the
Kingdom now, Eldress Abby!' 'Then run outdoors,' I said. She kicked up her
heels like a colt and was through the door in a second. Not long afterwards I
put my hands behind me to tie my apron tighter, and if that child had n't
taken my small scissors lying on the table and cut buttonholes all up and down
my strings, hundreds of them, while she was 'laboring to repent.'"
Elder Gray smiled reminiscently, though he had often heard the story before.
"Neither of the children came from godly families," he said, "but at least the
parents never interfered with us nor came here putting false ideas into their
"That's what I say," continued Abby; "and now, after ten years' training and
discipline in the angelic life, Hetty being especially promising, to think of
their going away together, and worse yet, being married in Albion village
right at our very doors; I don't hardly dare to go to bed nights for fear of
hearing in the morning that some of the other young folks have been led astray
by this foolish performance of Hetty's; I know it was Hetty's fault; Nathan
never had ingenuity enough to think and plan it all out."
"Nay, nay, Abby, don't be too hard on the girl; I've watched Nathan closely,
and he has been in a dangerous and unstable state, even as long ago as his
last confession; but this piece of backsliding, grievous as it is, does n't
cause me as much sorrow as the fall of Brother Ephraim. To all appearance he
had conquered his appetite, and for five years he has led a sober life. I had
even great hopes of him for the ministry, and suddenly, like a great cloud in
the blue sky, has come this terrible visitation, this reappearance of the old
Adam. 'Ephraim has returned to his idols.'"
"How have you decided to deal with him, Daniel?"
"It is his first offense since he cast in his lot with us; we must rebuke,
chastise, and forgive."
"Yee, yee, I agree to that; but how if he makes us the laughing-stock of the
community and drags our sacred banner in the dust? We can't afford to have one
of our order picked up in the streets by the world's people."
"Have the world's people found an infallible way to keep those of their order
out of the gutters?" asked Elder Gray. "Ephraim seems repentant; if he is
willing to try again, we must be willing to do as much."
"Yee, Daniel, you are right. Another matter that causes me anxiety is Susanna.
I never yearned for a soul as I yearn for hers! She has had the advantage of
more education and more reading than most of us have ever enjoyed; she's
gifted in teaching and she wins the children. She's discreet and spiritually
minded; her life in the world, even with the influence of her dissipated
husband, has n't really stained, only humbled her; she would make such a
Shaker, if she was once 'convinced,' as we have n't gathered in for years and
years; but I fear she's slipping, slipping away, Daniel!"
"What makes you feel so now, particularly?"
"She's diff'rent as time goes on. She's had more letters from that place where
her boy is; she cries nights, and though she does n't relax a mite with her
work, she drags about sometimes like a bird with one wing."
Elder Daniel took off his broadbrimmed hat to cool his forehead and hair,
lifting his eyes to the first pale stars that were trembling in the sky,
hesitating in silver and then quietly deepening into gold.
Brother Ansel was a Believer because he had no particular love for the world
and no great susceptibility to its temptations; but what had drawn Daniel Gray
from the open sea into this quiet little backwater of a Shaker Settlement?
After an adventurous early life, in which, as if youth-intoxicated, he had
plunged from danger to danger, experience to experience, he suddenly found
himself in a society of which he had never so much as heard, a company of
celibate brothers and sisters holding all goods and possessions in common, and
trying to live the "angelic life" on earth. Illness detained him for a month
against his will, but at the end of that time he had joined the Community; and
although it had been twenty-five years since his gathering in, he was still
steadfast in the faith.
His character was of puritanical sternness; he was a strict disciplinarian,
and insisted upon obedience to the rules of Shaker life, "the sacred laws of
Zion," as he was wont to term them. He magnified his office, yet he was of a
kindly disposition easily approached by children, and not without a quaint
There was a long pause while the two faithful leaders of the little flock were
absorbed in thought; then the Elder said: "Susanna's all you say, and the
child, well, if she could be purged of her dross, I never saw a creature
better fitted to live the celestial life; but we must not harbor any divided
hearts here. When the time comes, we must dismiss her with our blessing."
"Yee, I suppose so," said Eldress Abby, loyally, but it was with a sigh. Had
she and Tabitha been left to their own instincts, they would have gone out
into the highways and hedges, proselyting with the fervor of Mother Ann's day
"After all, Abby," said the Elder, rising to take his leave, still in a sort
of mild trance,"after all, Abby, I suppose the Shakers don't own the whole of
heaven. I'd like to think so, but I can't. It's a big place, and it belongs to
The woods on the shores of Massabesic Pond were stretches of tapestry, where
every shade of green and gold, olive and brown, orange and scarlet, melted the
one into the other. The somber pines made a deep-toned background; patches of
sumach gave their flaming crimson; the goldenrod grew rank and tall in
glorious profusion, and the maples outside the Office Building were balls of
brilliant carmine. The air was like crystal, and the landscape might have been
bathed in liquid amber, it was so saturated with October yellow.
Susanna caught her breath as she threw her chamber window wider open in the
early morning; for the greater part of the picture had been painted during the
"Throw your little cape round your shoulders and come quickly, Sue!" she
The child ran to her side. "Oh, what a goldy, goldy morning!" she cried.
One crimson leaf with a long heavy stem that acted as a sort of rudder, came
down to the windowsill with a sidelong scooping flight, while two or three
gayly painted ones, parted from the tree by the same breeze, floated airily
along as if borne on unseen wings, finally alighting on Sue's head and
shoulders like tropical birds.
"You cried in the night, Mardie!" said Sue. "I heard you snifferling and
getting up for your hank'chief; but I did n't speak 'cause it's so dreadful to
be _catched_ crying."
"Kneel down beside me and give me part of your cape," her mother answered.
"I'm going to let my sad heart fly right out of the window into those
"And maybe a glad heart will fly right in!" the child suggested.
"Maybe. Oh! we must cuddle close and be still; Elder Gray's going to sit down
under the great maple; and do you see, all the Brothers seem to be up early
this morning, just as we are?"
"More love, Elder Gray!" called Issachar, on his way to the toolhouse.
"More love, Brother Issachar!"
"More love, Brother Ansel!"
"More love, Brother Calvin!"
"More love! .... More love! .... More love!" So the quaint but not uncommon
Shaker greeting passed from Brother to Brother; and as Tabitha and Martha and
Rosetta met on their way to dairy and laundry and seed-house, they, too,
hearing the salutation, took up the refrain, and Susanna and Sue heard again
from the women's voices that beautiful morning wish, "More love! More love!"
speeding from heart to heart and lip to lip.
Mother and child were very quiet.
"More love, Sue!" said Susanna, clasping her closely.
"More love, Mardie!" whispered the child, smiling and entering into the spirit
of the salutation. "Let's turn our heads Farnham way! I'll take Jack and you
take Fardie, and we'll say togedder, 'More love'; shall we?"
"More love, John."
"More love, Jack."
The words floated out over the trees in the woman's trembling voice and the
"Elder Gray looks tired though he's just got up," Sue continued.
"He is not strong," replied her mother, remembering Brother Ansel's statement
that the Elder "wa'n't diseased anywheres, but did n't have no durability."
"The Elder would have a lovely lap," Sue remarked presently.
"A nice lap to sit in. Fardie has a nice lap, too, and Uncle Joel Atterbury,
but not Aunt Louisa; she lets you slide right off; it's a bony, hard lap. I
love Elder Gray, and I climbed on his lap one day. He put me right down, but
I'm sure he likes children. I wish I could take right hold of his hand and
walk all over the farm, but he would n't let me, I s'pose.-- _More_love_,
_Elder_Gray_!" she cried suddenly, bobbing up above the windowsill and shaking
her fairy hand at him.
The Elder looked up at the sound of the glad voice. No human creature could
have failed to smile back into the roguish face or have treated churlishly the
sweet, confident little greeting. The heart of a real man must have an
occasional throb of the father, and when Daniel Gray rose from his seat under
the maple and called, "More love, child!" there was something strange and
touching in his tone. He moved away from the tree to his morning labors with
the consciousness of something new to conquer. Long, long ago he had risen
victorious above many of the temptations that flesh is heir to. Women were his
good friends, his comrades, his sisters; they no longer troubled the waters of
his soul; but here was a child who stirred the depths; who awakened the
potential father in him so suddenly and so strongly that he longed for the
sweetness of a human tie that could bind him to her. But the current of the
Elder's being was set towards sacrifice and holiness, and the common joys of
human life he felt could never and must never be his; so he went to the daily
round, the common task, only a little paler, a little soberer than was his
"More love, Martha!" said Susanna when she met Martha a little later in the
"More love, Susanna!" Martha replied cheerily. "You heard our Shaker greeting,
I see! It was the beautiful weather, the fine air and glorious colors, that
brought the inspiration this morning, I guess! It took us all out of doors,
and then it seemed to get into the blood. Besides, tomorrow's the Day of
Sacrifice, and that takes us all on to the mountaintops of feeling. There have
been times when I had to own up to a lack of love."
"You, Martha, who have such wonderful influence over the children, such
patience, such affection!"
"It was n't always so. When I was first put in charge of the children, I did
n't like the work. They did n't respond to me somehow, and when they were out
of my sight they were ugly and disobedient. My natural mother, Maria Holmes,
took care of the girls' clothing. One day she said to me, 'Martha, do you love
"'Some of them are very unlovely,' I replied.
"'I know that,' she said, 'but you can never help them unless you love them.'
"I thought mother very critical, for I strove scrupulously to do my duty. A
few days after this the Elder said to me: 'Martha, do you love the girls?' I
responded, 'Not very much.'
"'You cannot save them unless you love them,' he said. "Then I answered, 'I
will labor for a gift of love.' "When the work of the day was over, and the
girls were in bed, I would take off my shoes and spend several hours of the
night walking the floor, kneeling in prayer that I might obtain the coveted
gift. For five weeks I did this without avail, when suddenly one night when
the moon was full and I was kneeling by the window, a glory seemed to
overshadow the crest of a high mountain in the distance. I thought I heard a
voice say: '_Martha, I baptize you into the spirit of love!_' I sat there
trembling for more than an hour, and when I rose, I felt that I could love the
meanest human being that ever walked the earth. I have never had any trouble
with children since that night of the vision. They seem different to me, and I
dare say I am different to them."
"I wish I could see visions!" exclaimed Susanna. "Oh, for a glory that would
speak to me and teach me truth and duty! Life is all mist, whichever way I
turn. I'd like to be lifted on to a high place where I could see clearly."
She leaned against the frame of the open kitchen door, her delicate face
quivering with emotion and longing, her attitude simplicity and
unconsciousness itself. The baldest of Shaker prose turned to purest poetry
when Susanna dipped it in the alembic of her own imagination.
"Labor for the gift of sight!" said Martha, who believed implicitly in spirits
and visions. "Labor this very night."
It must be said for Susanna that she had never ceased laboring in her own way
for many days. The truth was that she felt herself turning from marriage. She
had lived now so long in the society of men and women who regarded it as an
institution not compatible with the highest spiritual development that
unconsciously her point of view had changed; changed all the more because she
had been so unhappy with the man she had chosen. Curiously enough, and
unfortunately enough for Susanna Hathaway's peace of mind, the greater
aversion she felt towards the burden of the old life, towards the irksomeness
of guiding a weaker soul, towards the claims of husband on wife, the stronger
those claims appeared. If they had never been assumed!--Ah, but they had;
there was the rub! One sight of little Sue sleeping tranquilly beside her; one
memory of rebellious, faulty Jack; one vision of John, either as needing or
missing her, the rightful woman, or falling deeper in the wiles of the wrong
one for very helplessness;--any of these changed Susanna the would-be saint,
in an instant, into Susanna the wife and mother.
"_Speak to me for Thy Compassion's sake_," she prayed from the little book of
Confessions that her mother had given her. "_I will follow after Thy Voice!_"
"Would you betray your trust?" asked conscience.
"No, not intentionally."
"Would you desert your post?"
"You have divided the family; taken a little quail bird out of the home-nest
and left sorrow behind you. Would God justify you in that?"
For the first time Susanna's "No" rang clearly enough for her to hear it
plainly; for the first time it was followed by no vague misgivings, no
bewilderment, no unrest or indecision. "_I turn hither and hither; Thy
purposes are hid from me, but I commend my soul to Thee_!"
Then a sentence from the dear old book came into her memory: "_And thy dead
things shall revive, and thy weak things shall be made whole_."
She listened, laying hold of every word, till the nervous clenching of her
hands subsided, her face relaxed into peace. Then she lay down beside Sue,
creeping close to her for the warmth and comfort and healing of her innocent
touch, and, closing her eyes serenely, knew no more till the morning broke,
the Sabbath morning of Confession Day.
Brother and Sister
If Susanna's path had grown more difficult, more filled with anxieties, so had
John Hathaway's. The protracted absence of his wife made the gossips conclude
that the break was a final one. Jack was only half contented with his aunt,
and would be fairly mutinous in the winter, while Louisa's general attitude
was such as to show clearly that she only kept the boy for Susanna's sake.
Now and then there was a terrifying hint of winter in the air, and the days of
Susanna's absence seemed eternal to John Hathaway. Yet he was a man about whom
there would have been but one opinion: that when deprived of a rather superior
and high-minded wife and the steadying influence of home and children, he
would go completely "to the dogs," whither he seemed to be hurrying when
Susanna's wifely courage failed. That he had done precisely the opposite and
the unexpected thing, shows us perhaps that men are not on the whole as
capable of estimating the forces of their fellow men as is God the maker of
men, who probably expects something of the worst of them up to the very last.
It was at the end of a hopeless Sunday when John took his boy back to his
aunt's towards night. He wondered drearily how a woman dealt with a ten-year-
old boy who from sunrise to sunset had done every mortal thing he ought not to
have done, and had left undone everything that he had been told to do; and, as
if to carry out the very words of the church service, neither was there any
health in him; for he had an inflamed throat and a whining, irritable,
discontented temper that could be borne only by a mother, a father being
wholly inadequate and apparently never destined for the purpose.
It was a mild evening late in October, and Louisa sat on the porch with her
pepper-and-salt shawl on and a black wool "rigolette" tied over her head.
Jack, very sulky and unresigned, was dispatched to bed under the care of the
one servant, who was provided with a cupful of vinegar, salt, and water, for a
gargle. John had more than an hour to wait for a returning train to Farnham,
and although ordinarily he would have preferred to spend the time in the
silent and unreproachful cemetery rather than in the society of his sister
Louisa, he was too tired and hopeless to do anything but sit on the steps and
smoke fitfully in the semidarkness. Louisa was much as usual. She well knew--
who better?--her brother's changed course of life, but neither encouragement
nor compliment were in her line. Why should a man be praised for living a
respectable life? That John had really turned a sort of moral somersault and
come up a different creature, she did not realize in the least, nor the
difficulties surmounted in such a feat; but she did give him credit secretly
for turning about face and behaving far more decently than she could ever have
believed possible. She had no conception of his mental torture at the time,
but if he kept on doing well, she privately intended to inform Susanna and at
least give her a chance of trying him again, if absence had diminished her
sense of injury. One thing that she did not know was that John was on the eve
of losing his partnership. When Jack had said that his father was not going
back to the store the next week, she thought it meant simply a vacation.
Divided hearts, broken vows, ruined lives she could bear the sight of these
with considerable philosophy, but a lost income was a very different, a very
tangible thing. She almost lost her breath when her brother knocked the ashes
from his meerschaum and curtly told her of the proposed change in his business
"I don't know what I shall do yet," he said, "whether I shall set up for
myself in a small way or take a position in another concern,--that is, if I
can get one--my stock of popularity seems to be pretty low just now in
Farnham. I'd move away tomorrow and cut the whole gossipy, deceitful,
hypocritical lot of 'em if I was n't afraid of closing the house and so losing
Susanna, if she should ever feel like coming back to us."
These words and the thought back of them were too much for John's self-
control. The darkness helped him and his need of comfort was abject. Suddenly
he burst out, "Oh, Louisa, for heaven's sake, give me a little crumb of
comfort, if you have any! How can you stand like a stone all these months and
see a man suffering as I have suffered, without giving him a word?"
"You brought it on yourself," said Louisa, in self-exculpation.
"Does that make it any easier to bear?" cried John. "Don't you suppose I
remember it every hour, and curse myself the more? You know perfectly well
that I'm a different man today. I don't know what made me change; it was as if
something had been injected into my blood that turned me against everything I
had liked best before. I hate the sight of the men and the women I used to go
with, not because they are any worse, but because they remind me of what I
have lost. I have reached the point now where I have got to have news of
Susanna or go and shoot myself."
"That would be about the only piece of foolishness you have n't committed
already!" replied Louisa, with a biting satire that would have made any man
let go of the trigger in case he had gone so far as to begin pulling it.
"Where is she?" John went on, without anger at her sarcasm. "Where is she, how
is she, what is she living on, is she well, is she just as bitter as she was
at first, does she ever speak of coming back? Tell me something, tell me
anything. I will know something. I say I _will_!"
Louisa's calm demeanor began to show a little agitation, for she was not used
to the sight of emotion. "I can't tell you where Susanna is, for I made her a
solemn promise I would n't unless you or Jack were in danger of some kind; but
I don't mind telling you this much, that she's well and in the safest kind of
a shelter, for she's been living from the first in a Shaker Settlement."
"Shaker Settlement!" cried John, starting up from his seat on the steps.
"What's that? I know Shaker egg-beaters and garden-seeds and rocking-chairs
and oh, yes, I remember their religion's against marriage. That's the worst
thing you could have told me; that ends all hope; if they once get hold of a
woman like Susanna, they'll never let go of her; if they don't believe in a
woman's marrying a good man, they'd never let her go back to a bad one. Oh, if
I had only known this before; if only you'd told me, Louisa, perhaps I could
have done something. Maybe they take vows or sign contracts, and so I have
lost her altogether."
"I don't know much about their beliefs, and Susanna never explained them,"
returned Louisa, nervously "but now that you've got something to offer her,
why don't you write and ask her to come back to you? I'll send your letter to
"I don't dare, Louisa, I don't dare," groaned John, leaning his head against
one of the pillars of the porch. "I can't tell you the fear I have of Susanna
after the way I've neglected her this last year. If she should come in at the
gate this minute, I could n't meet her eyes; if you'd read the letter she left
me, you'd feel the same way. I deserved it, to the last word, but oh, it was
like so many separate strokes of lightning, and every one of them burned. It
was nothing but the truth, but it was cut in with a sharp sword. Unless she
should come back to me of her own accord, and she never will, I have n't got
the courage to ask her; just have n't got the courage, that's all there is to
say about it." And here John buried his head in his hands.
A very queer thing happened to Louisa Banks at this moment. A half-second
before she would have murmured:
"This rock shall fly From its firm base as soon as I!"
when all at once, and without warning, a strange something occurred in the
organ which she had always regarded and her opinion had never yet been
questioned as a good, tough, love-tight heart. First there was a flutter and a
tremor running all along her spine; then her eyes filled; then a lump rose in
her throat and choked her; then words trembled on her tongue and refused to be
uttered; then something like a bird--could it have been the highly respectable
good-as-new heart?--throbbed under her black silk Sunday waist; then she grew
like wax from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet; then in a
twinkling, and so unconsciously as to be unashamed of it, she became a sister.
You have seen a gray November morning melt into an Indian summer noon? Louisa
Banks was like that, when, at the sight of a man in sore trouble, sympathy was
born in her to soften the rockiness of her original makeup.
"There, there, John, don't be so downhearted," she stammered, drawing her
chair closer and putting her hand on his shoulder. "We'll bring it round
right, you see if we don't. You've done the most yourself already, for I'm
proud of the way you've acted, stiffening right up like an honest man and
showing you've got some good sensible Hathaway stuff in you, after all, and
ain't ashamed to turn your back on your evil ways. Susanna ain't one to refuse
"She forgave for a long time, but she refused at last. Why should she change
now?" John asked.
"You remember she has n't heard a single word from you, nor about you, in that
out-of-the-way place where she's been living," said Louisa, consolingly. "She
thinks you're the same as you were, or worse, maybe. Perhaps she's waiting for
you to make some sign through me, for she don't know that you care anything
about her, or are pining to have her back."
"Such a woman as Susanna must know better than that!" cried John. "She ought
to know that when a man got used to living with anybody like her, he could
never endure any other kind."
"How should she know all that? Jack's been writing to her and telling her the
news for the last few weeks, though I have n't said a word about you because I
did n't know how long your reformation was going to hold out; but I won't let
the grass grow under my feet now, till I tell her just how things stand!"
"You're a good woman, Louisa; I don't see why I never noticed it before."
"It's because I've been concealing my goodness too much. Stay here with me
tonight and don't go back to brood in that dismal, forsaken house. We'll see
how Jack is in the morning, and if he's all right, take him along with you,
so's to be all there together if Susanna comes back this week, as I kind of
hope she will. Make Ellen have the house all nice and cheerful from top to
bottom, with a good supper ready to put on the table the night she comes.
You'd better pick your asters and take 'em in for the parlor, then I'll cut
the chrysanthemums for you in the middle of the week. The day she comes I'll
happen in, and stay to dinner if you find it's going to be mortifying for you;
but if everything is as I expect it will be, and the way Susanna always did
have things, I'll make for home and leave you to yourselves. Susanna ain't one
to nag and hector and triumph over a man when he's repented."
John hugged Louisa, pepper-and-salt shawl, black rigolctte, and all, when she
finished this unprecedented speech; and when he went to sleep that night in
the old north chamber, the one he and Louisa had been born in, the one his
father and mother had died in, it was with a little smile of hope on his lips.
Set her place at hearth and board
As it used to be!
These were the last words that crossed his waking thoughts. Before Louisa went
to her own bed, she wrote one of her brief and characteristic epistles to
Susanna, but it did not reach her, for the "hills of home" had called John's
wife so insistently on that Sunday, that the next day found her on her way
back to Farnham.
Dear Susanna [so the letter read], There's a new man in your house at Farnham.
His name is John Hathaway, but he's made all over and it was high time. I say
it's the hand of God! He won't own up that it is, but I'm letting him alone,
for I've done quarreling, though I don't like to see a man get religion and
deny it, for all the world like Peter in the New Testament. If you have n't
used up the last one of your seventy-times-sevens, I think you'd better come
back and forgive your husband. If you don't, you'd better send for your son.
I'm willing to bear the burdens the Lord intends specially for me, but Jack
belongs to you, and a good-sized heavy burden he is, too, for his age. I can't
deny that, if he is a Hathaway. I think he's the kind of a boy that ought to
be put in a barrel and fed through the bunghole till he grows up; but of
course I'm not used to children's ways.
Be as easy with John at first as you can. I know you 'll say _I_ never was
with my husband, but he was different, he got to like a bracing treatment,
Adlai did. Many's the time he said to me, "Louisa, when you make up our minds,
I'm always contented." But John is n't made that way. He's a changed man; now,
what we've got to do is to _keep_ him changed. He does n't bear you any grudge
for leaving him, so he won't reproach you.
Hoping to see you before long, I am,
Yours as usual,
"The Open Door"
On the Saturday evening before the yearly Day of Sacrifice the spiritual heads
of each Shaker family called upon all the Believers to enter heartily next day
into the humiliations and blessings of open confession.
The Sabbath dawns upon an awed and solemn household. Footfalls are hushed, the
children's chatter is stilled, and all go to the morning meal in silence.
There is a strange quiet, but it is not sadness; it is a hush, as when in
Israel's camp the silver trumpets sounded and the people stayed in their
tents. "Then," Elder Gray explained to Susanna, "a summons comes to each
Believer, for all have been searching the heart and scanning the life of the
months past. Softly the one called goes to the door of the one appointed by
the Divine Spirit, the human representative who is to receive the gift of the
burdened soul. Woman confesses to woman, man to man; it is the open door that
leads to God."
Susanna lifted Eldress Abby's latch and stood in her strong, patient presence;
then all at once she knelt impulsively and looked up into her serene eyes.
"Do you come as a Believer, Susanna?" tremblingly asked the Eldress.
"No, Eldress Abby. I come as a child of the world who wants to go back to her
duty, and hopes to do it better than she ever did before. She ought to be able
to, because you have chastened her pride, taught her the lesson of patience,
strengthened her will, purified her spirit, and cleansed her soul from
bitterness and wrath. I waited till afternoon when all the confessions were
over. May I speak now?"
Eldress Abby bowed, but she looked weak and stricken and old.
"I had something you would have called a vision last night, but I think of it
as a dream, and I know just what led to it. You told me Polly Reed's story,
and the little quail bird had such a charm for Sue that I've repeated it to
her more than once. In my sleep I seemed to see a mother quail with a little
one beside her. The two were always together, happily flying or hopping about
under the trees; but every now and then I heard a sad little note, as of a
deserted bird somewhere in the wood. I walked a short distance, and parting
the branches, saw on the open ground another parent bird and a young one by
its side darting hither and thither, as if lost; they seemed to be restlessly
searching for something, and always they uttered the soft, sad note, as if the
nest had disappeared and they had been parted from the little flock. Of course
my brain had changed the very meaning of the Shaker story and translated it
into different terms, but when I woke this morning, I could think of nothing
but my husband and my boy. The two of them seemed to me to be needing me,
searching for me in the dangerous open country, while I was hidden away in the
safe shelter of the wood--I and the other little quail bird I had taken out of
"Do you think you could persuade your husband to unite with us?" asked Abby,
wiping her eyes.
The tension of the situation was too tightly drawn for mirth, or Susanna could
have smiled, but she answered soberly, "No; if John could develop the best in
himself, he could be a good husband and father, a good neighbor and citizen,
and an upright business man, but never a Shaker."
"Did n't he insult your wifely honor and disgrace your home?" "Yes, in the
last few weeks before I left him. All his earlier offenses were more against
himself than me, in a sense. I forgave him many a time, but I am not certain
it was the seventy times seven that the Bible bids us. I am not free from
blame myself. I was hard the last year, for I had lost hope and my pride was
trailing in the dust. I left him a bitter letter, one without any love or hope
or faith in it, just because at the moment I believed I ought, once in my
life, to let him know how I felt toward him."
"How can you go back and live under his roof with that feeling? It's
"It has changed. I was morbid then, and so wounded and weak that I could not
fight any longer. I am rested now, and calm. My pluck has come back, and my
strength. I've learned a good deal here about casting out my own devils; now I
am going home and help him to cast out his. Perhaps he won't be there; perhaps
he does n't want me, though when he was his very best self he loved me dearly;
but that was long, long ago!" sighed Susanna, drearily.
"Oh, this thing the world's people call love!" groaned Abby.
"There is love and love, even in the world outside; for if it is Adam's world
it is God's, too, Abby! The love I gave my husband was good, I think, but it
failed somewhere, and I am going back to try again. I am not any too happy in
leaving you and taking up, perhaps, heavier burdens than those from which I
"Night after night I've prayed to be the means of leading you to the celestial
life," said the Eldress, "but my plaint was not worthy to be heard. Oh, that
God would increase our numbers and so revive our drooping faith! We work, we
struggle, we sacrifice, we pray, we defy the world and deny the flesh, yet we
fail to gather in Believers."
"Don't say you 've failed, dear, dear Abby!" cried Susanna, pressing the
Eldress's work-stained hands to her lips. "God speaks to you in one voice, to
me in another. Does it matter so much as long as we both hear Him? Surely it's
the hearing and the obeying that counts most! Wish me well, dear friend, and
help me to say goodbye to the Elder."
The two women found Elder Gray in the office, and Abby, still unresigned, laid
Susanna's case before him.
"The Great Architect has need of many kinds of workmen in His building," said
the Elder. "There are those who are willing to put aside the ties of flesh for
the kingdom of heaven's sake; 'he that is able to receive it, let him receive
"There may also he those who are willing to take up the ties of the flesh for
the kingdom of heaven's sake," answered Susanna, gently, but with a certain
Her face glowed with emotion, her eyes shone, her lips were parted. It was a
new thought. Abby and Daniel gazed at her for a moment without speaking, then
Daniel said: "It's a terrible cross to some of the Brethren and Sisters to
live here outside of the world, but maybe it's more of a cross for such as you
to live in it, under such conditions as have surrounded you of late years. To
pursue good and resist evil, to bear your cross cheerfully and to grow in
grace and knowledge of truth while you're bearing it that's the lesson of
life, I suppose. If you find you can't learn it outside, come back to us,
"I will," she promised, "and no words can speak my gratitude for what you have
all done for me. Many a time it will come back to me and keep me from
She looked back at him from the open doorway, timidly.
"Don't forget us, Sue and me, altogether," she said, her eyes filling with
tears. "Come to Farnham, if you will, and see if I am a credit to Shaker
teaching! I shall never be here again, perhaps, and somehow it seems to me as
if you, Elder Gray, with your education and your gifts, ought to be leading a
larger life than this."
"I've hunted in the wild Maine forests, in my young days; I've speared salmon
in her rivers and shot rapids ill a birchbark canoe," said the Elder, looking
up from the pine table that served as a desk. "I've been before the mast and
seen strange countries; I've fought Indians; I've faced perils on land and
sea; but this Shaker life is the greatest adventure of all!"
"Adventure?" echoed Susanna, uncomprehendingly.
"Adventure!" repeated the Elder, smiling at his own thoughts. "Whether I fail,
or whether I succeed, it's a splendid adventure in ethics."
Abby and Daniel looked at each other when Susanna passed out of the office
"'They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us,
they would have continued with us,'" he quoted quietly.
Abby wiped her eyes with her apron. "It's a hard road to travel sometimes,
Daniel!" she said.
"Yee; but think where it leads, Abby, think where it leads! You're not going
to complain of dust when you're treading the King's Highway!"
Susanna left the office with a drooping head, knowing the sadness that she had
left behind. Brother Ansel sat under the trees near by, and his shrewd eye
perceived the drift of coming events.
"Well, Susanna," he drawled, "you're goin' to leave us, like most o' the other
'jiners.' I can see that with one eye shut."
"Yes," she replied with a half smile; "but you see, Ansel, I 'jined' John
Hathaway before I knew anything about Shaker doctrines."
"Yee; but what's to prevent your onjinin' him? They used to tie up married
folks in the old times so't they could n't move an inch. When they read the
constitution and bylaws over 'em they used to put in 'till death do us part.'
That's the way my father was hitched to his three wives, but death _did_ 'em
part--fortunately for him!"
"'Till death us do part' is still in the marriage service," Susanna said, "and
I think of it very often."
"I want to know if that's there yit!" exclaimed Ansel, with apparent surprise;
"I thought they must be leavin' it out, there's so much onjinin' nowadays!
Well, accordin' to my notions, if there is anything wuss 'n marriage, it's
hevin' it hold till death, for then menfolks don't git any chance of a
speritual life till afterwards. They certainly don't when they're being
dragged down by women-folks an' young ones."
"I think the lasting part of the bargain makes it all the more solemn,"
"Oh, yes, it's solemn enough, but so's a prayer meetin', an' consid'able more
elevatin' "; and here Ansel regarded the surrounding scenery with frowning
disapproval, as if it left much to be desired.
"Don't you think that there are any agreeable and pleasant women, Ansel?"
"Land, yes; heaps of 'em; but they all wear Shaker bunnits!"
"I suppose you know more about the women in the outside world than most of the
Brothers, on account of traveling so much?"
"I guess anybody 't drives a seed-cart or peddles stuff along the road knows
enough o' women to keep clear of 'em. They 'll come out the kitchen door,
choose their papers o' seasonin' an' bottles o' flavorin', worry you 'bout the
price an' take the aidge off every dime, make up an' then onmake their minds
'bout what they want, ask if it's pure, an' when by good luck you git your
cart out o' the yard, they come runnin' along the road after ye to git ye to
swap a bottle o' vanilla for some spruce gum an' give 'em back the change."
Susanna could not help smiling at Ansel's arraignment of her sex. "Do you
think they follow you for the pleasure of shopping, or the pleasure of your
conversation, Ansel?" she asked slyly.
"A little o' both, mebbe; though the pleasure's all on their side," returned
the unchivalrous Ansel. "But take them same women, cut their hair close to
their heads (there's a heap o' foolishness in hair, somehow), purge 'em o'
their vanity, so they won't be lookin' in the glass all the time, make 'em
depend on one another for sassiety, so they won't crave no conversation with
menfolks, an' you git an article that's 'bout as good and 'bout as stiddy as a
"You never seem to remember that men are just as dangerous to women's
happiness and goodness as women are to men's," said Susanna, courageously.
"It don't seem so to me! Never see a man, hardly, that could stick to the
straight an' narrer if a woman wanted him to go the other way. Weak an'
unstable as water, menfolks are, an' women are pow'ful strong."
"Have your own way, Ansel! I'm going back to the world, but no man shall ever
say I hindered him from being good. You'll see women clearer in another
"There'll be precious few of 'em to see!" retorted Ansel. "You're about the
best o' the lot, but even you have a kind of a managin' way with ye, besides
fillin' us all full o' false hopes that we'd gathered in a useful Believer,
one cal'lated to spread the doctrines o' Mother Ann!"
"I know, I know, Ansel, and oh, how sorry I am! You would never believe how I
long to stay and help you, never believe how much you have helped me! Goodbye,
Ansel; you've made me smile when my heart was breaking. I shan't forget you!"
The Hills of Home
Susanna had found Sue in the upper chamber at the Office Building, and began
to make the simple preparations for her homeward journey. It was the very hour
when John Hathaway was saying:--
"Set her place at hearth and board
As it used to be."
Sue interfered with the packing somewhat by darting to and fro, bringing her
mother sacred souvenirs given her by the Shaker sisters and the children--
needle-books, pin-balls, thimble-cases, packets of flower-seeds, polished
pebbles, bottles of flavoring extract.
"This is for Fardie," she would say, "and this for Jack and this for Ellen and
this for Aunt Louisa--the needle-book, 'cause she's so useful. Oh, I'm glad
we're going home, Mardie, though I do love it here, and I was most ready to be
a truly Shaker. It's kind of pityish to have your hair shingled and your
stocking half-knitted and know how to say 'yee' and then have it all wasted."
Susanna dropped a tear on the dress she was folding. The child was going home,
as she had come away from it, gay, irresponsible, and merry; it was only the
mothers who hoped and feared and dreaded. the very universe was working toward
Susanna's desire at that moment, but she was all unaware of the happiness that
lay so near. She could not see the freshness of the house in Farnham, the new
bits of furniture here and there; the autumn leaves in her own bedroom; her
worktable full of the records of John's sorrowful summer; Jack handsomer and
taller, and softer, also, in his welcoming mood; Ellen rosy and excited. She
did not know that Joel Atterbury had said to John that day, "I take it all
back, old man, and I hope you'll stay on in the firm!" nor that Aunt Louisa,
who was putting stiff, short-stemmed chrysanthemums in cups and tumblers here
and there through the house, was much more flexible and human than was natural
to her; nor that John, alternating between hope and despair, was forever
"Set her place at hearth and board
As it used to be:
Higher are the hills of home,
Bluer is the sea!"
It is often so. They who go weeping to look for the dead body of a sorrow,
find a vision of angels where the body has lain.
"I hope Fardie'Il be glad to see us and Ellen will have gingerbread," Sue
chattered; then, pausing at the window, she added, "I'm sorry to leave the
hills, 'cause I'specially like them, don't you, Mardie?"
"We are leaving the Shaker hills, but we are going to the hills of home," her
mother answered cheerily. "Don't you remember the Farnham hills, dear?"
"Yes, I remember," and Sue looked thoughtful; "they were farther off and
covered with woods; these are smooth and gentle. And we shall miss the lake,
"Yes; but we can look at the blue sea from your bedroom window, Sue!"
"And we'll tell Fardie about Polly Reed and the little quail bird, won't we?"
"Yes; but he and Jack will have a great deal to say to us, and we must n't
talk all the time about the dear, kind Shakers, you know!"
"You're all '_buts_,' Mardie!" at which Susanna smiled through her tears.
Twilight deepened into dusk, and dusk into dark, and then the moon rose over
the poplar trees outside the window where Susanna and Sue were sleeping. The
Shaker Brethren and Sisters were resting serenely after their day of
confession. It was the aged Tabitha's last Sabbath on earth, but had she
known, it would have made no difference; if ever a soul was ready for heaven,
it was Tabitha's.
There was an Irish family at the foot of the long hill that lay between the
Settlement and the village of Albion; father, mother, and children had prayed
to the Virgin before they went to bed; and the gray-haired minister in the
low-roofed parsonage was writing his communion sermon on a text sacred to the
orthodox Christian world. The same moon shone over all, and over millions of
others worshiping strange idols and holding strange beliefs in strange far
lands, yet none of them owned the whole of heaven; for as Elder Gray said, "It
is a big place and belongs to God."
Susanna Hathaway went back to John thinking it her plain duty, and to me it
seems beautiful that she found waiting for her at the journey's end a new love
that was better than the old; found a husband to whom she could say in that
first sacred hour when they were alone together, "Never mind, John! Let's
forget, and begin all over again."
When Susanna and Sue alighted at the little railway station at Farnham, and
started to walk through the narrow streets that led to the suburbs, the
mother's heart beat more and more tumultuously as she realized that the issues
of four lives would be settled before nightfall.
Little did Sue reck of life issues, skipping like a young roe from one side of
the road to the other. "There are the hills, not a bit changed, Mardie!" she
cried; "and the sea is just where it was!... Here's the house with the parrot,
do you remember? Now the place where the dog barks and snarls is coming
next... P'raps he'll be dead.., or p'raps he'll be nicer... Keep close to me
till we get past the gate... He did n't come out, so p'raps he is dead or gone
a-visiting.... There's that 'specially lazy cow that's always lying down in
the Buxtons' field.... I don't b'lieve she's moved since we came away.... Do
you s'pose she stands up to be milked, Mardie? There's the old bridge over the
brook, just the same, only the woodbine's red.... There's... There's... Oh,
Mardie, look, look!... I do b'lieve it's our Jacky!"
Sue flew over the ground like a swallow, calling "Jack-y! Jack-y! It's me and
Mardie come home!"
Jack extricated himself from his sister's strangling hug and settled his
collar. "I'm awful glad to see you, Sukey," he said, "but I'm getting too big
to be kissed. Besides, my pockets are full of angleworms and fishhooks."
"Are you too big to be kissed even by mother?" called Susanna, hurrying to her
boy, who submitted to her embrace with better grace. "O Jack, Jack! say you're
glad to see mother! Say it, say it; I can't wait, Jack!"
"'Course I'm glad! Why would n't I be? I tell you I'm tired of Aunt Louisa,
though she's easier than she was. Time and again I've packed my lunch basket
and started to run away, but I always made it a picnic and went back again,
thinking they'd make such a row over me."
"Aunt Louisa is always kind when you're obedient," Susanna urgedú "She ain't
so stiff as she was. Ellen is real worried about her and thinks she's losing
her strength, she's so easy to get along with."
"Better'n he was."
"Has n't he been well?"
"Not so very; always quiet and won't eat, nor play, nor anything. I'm home
with him since Sunday."
"What is the matter with your clothes?" asked Susanna, casting a maternal eye
over him while she pulled him down here and up there, with anxious
disapproving glances. "You look so patched, and wrinkled, and grubby."
"Aunt Louisa and father make me keep my best to put on for you, if you should
come. I clean up and dress every afternoon at train time, only I forgot today
and came fishing."
"It's too cold to fish, sonny."
"It ain't too cold to fish, but it's too cold for 'em to bite," corrected
"Why were you expecting us just now?" asked Susanna. "I did n't write because
.... because, I thought.., perhaps.., it would be better to surprise you."
"Father's expecting you every day, not just this one," said Jack.
Susanna sank down on a stone at the end of the bridge, and leaning her head
against the railing, burst into tears. In that moment the worst of her fears
rolled away from her heart like the stone from the mouth of a sepulcher. If
her husband had looked for her return, he must have missed her, regretted her,
needed her, just a little. His disposition was sweet, even if it were
thoughtless, and he might not meet her with reproaches after all. There might
not be the cold greeting she had often feared-- "_Well, you've concluded to
come back, have you_? _It was about time_!" If only John were a little
penitent, a little anxious to meet her on some common ground, she felt her
task would be an easier one.
"Have you got a pain, Mardie?" cried Sue, anxiously bending over her mother.
"No, dear," she answered, smiling through her tears and stretching a hand to
both children to help her to her feet. "No, dear, I've lost one!"
"I cry when anything aches, not when it stops," remarked Jack, as the three
started again on their walk. "Say, Sukey, you look bigger and fatter than you
did when you went away, and you've got short curls 'stead of long ones. Do you
see how I've grown? Two inches!"
"I'm inches and inches bigger and taller," Sue boasted, standing on tiptoe and
stretching herself proudly. "And I can knit, and pull maple candy, and say
Yee, and sing 'O Virgin Church, how great thy light.'"
"Pooh," said Jack, "I can sing 'A sailor's life's the life for me, Yo ho, yo
ho!' Step along faster, mummy dear; it's 'most supper time. Aunt Louisa won't
scold if you're with me. There's the house, see? Father'll be working in the
garden covering up the asters, so they won't freeze before you come."
"There is no garden, Jack. What do you mean?" "Wait till you see if there's no
garden! Hurrah! there's father at the window, side of Aunt Louisa. Won't he be
pleased I met you halfway and brought you home!"
Oh! it was beautiful, the autumn twilight, the smoke of her own hearth-side
rising through the brick chimneys! She thought she had left the way of peace
behind her, but no, the way of peace was here, where her duty was, and her
husband and children.
The sea was deep blue; the home hills rolled softly along the horizon; the
little gate that Susanna had closed behind her in anger and misery stood wide
open; shrubs, borders, young hedgerows, beds of late autumn flowers greeted
her eyes and touched her heart. A foot sounded on the threshold; the home door
opened and smiled a greeting; and then a voice choked with feeling, glad with
welcome, called her name.
Light-footed Sue ran with a cry of joy into her father's outstretched arms,
and then leaping down darted to Ellen, chattering like a magpie. Husband and
wife looked at each other for one quivering moment, and then clasped each
"Forgive! O Susanna, forgive!"
John's eyes and lips and arms made mute appeals, and it was then Susanna said,
"Never mind, John! Let's forget, and begin all over again!"
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