Justin had once come back to Edgewood, and it was the bitterest drop in her cup of bitterness that she was spending that winter in Berwick (where, so the neighbors told him, she was a great favorite in society, and was receiving much attention from gentlemen), so that she had never heard of his visit until the spring had come again. Parted friends did not keep up with one another's affairs by means of epistolary communication, in those days, in Edgewood; it was not the custom. Spoken words were difficult enough to Justin Peabody, and written words were quite impossible, especially if they were to be used to define his half-conscious desires and his fluctuations of will, or to recount his disappointments and discouragements and mistakes.
IV. It was Saturday afternoon, the 24th of December, and the weary sisters of the Dorcas band rose from their bruised knees and removed their little stores of carpet-tacks from their mouths. This was a feminine custom of long standing, and as no village dressmaker had ever died of pins in the digestive organs, so were no symptoms of carpet-tacks ever discovered in any Dorcas, living or dead. Men wondered at the habit and reviled it, but stood confounded in the presence of its indubitable harmlessness.
The red ingrain carpet was indeed very warm, beautiful, and comforting to the eye, and the sisters were suitably grateful to Providence, and devoutly thankful to themselves, that they had been enabled to buy, sew, and lay so many yards of it. But as they stood looking at their completed task, it was cruelly true that there was much left to do.
The aisles had been painted dark brown on each side of the red strips leading from the doors to the pulpit, but the rest of the church floor was "a thing of shreds and patches." Each member of the carpet committee had paid (as a matter of pride, however ill she could afford it) three dollars and sixty-seven cents for sufficient carpet to lay in her own pew; but these brilliant spots of conscientious effort only made the stretches of bare, unpainted floor more evident. And that was not all. Traces of former spasmodic and individual efforts desecrated the present ideals. The doctor's pew had a pink-and-blue Brussels on it; the lawyer's, striped stair-carpeting; the Browns from Deerwander sported straw matting and were not abashed; while the Greens, the Whites, the Blacks, and the Grays displayed floor coverings as dissimilar as their names.
"I never noticed it before!" exclaimed Maria Sharp, "but it ain't Christian, that floor! it's heathenish and ungodly!"
"For mercy's sake, don't swear, Maria," said Mrs. Miller nervously. "We've done our best, and let's hope that folks will look up and not down. It is n't as if they were going to set in the chandelier; they'll have something else to think about when Nancy gets her hemlock branches and white carnations in the pulpit vases. This morning my Abner picked off two pinks from a plant I've been nursing in my dining-room for weeks, trying to make it bloom for Christmas. I slapped his hands good, and it's been haunting me ever since to think I had to correct him the day before Christmas.—Come, Lobelia, we must be hurrying!"
"One thing comforts me," exclaimed the Widow Buzzell, as she took her hammer and tacks preparatory to leaving; "and that is that the Methodist meetin'-house ain't got any carpet at all."
"Mrs. Buzzell, Mrs. Buzzell!" interrupted the minister's wife, with a smile that took the sting from her speech. "It will be like punishing little Abner Miller; if we think those thoughts on Christmas Eve, we shall surely be haunted afterward."
"And anyway," interjected Maria Sharp, who always saved the situation, "you just wait and see if the Methodists don't say they'd rather have no carpet at all than have one that don't go all over the floor. I know 'em!" and she put on her hood and blanket-shawl as she gave one last fond look at the improvements.
"I'm going home to get my supper, and come back afterward to lay the carpet in my pew; my beans and brown bread will be just right by now, and perhaps it will rest me a little; besides, I must feed 'Zekiel."
As Nancy Wentworth spoke, she sat in a corner of her own modest rear seat, looking a little pale and tired. Her waving dark hair had loosened and fallen over her cheeks, and her eyes gleamed from under it wistfully. Nowadays Nancy's eyes never had the sparkle of gazing into the future, but always the liquid softness that comes from looking backward.
"The church will be real cold by then, Nancy," objected Mrs. Burbank.—"Good-night, Mrs. Baxter."
"Oh, no! I shall be back by half-past six, and I shall not work long. Do you know what I believe I'll do, Mrs. Burbank, just through the holidays? Christmas and New Year's both coming on Sunday this year, there'll be a great many out to church, not counting the strangers that'll come to the special service tomorrow. Instead of putting down my own pew carpet that'll never be noticed here in the back, I'll lay it in the old Peabody pew, for the red aisle-strip leads straight up to it; the ministers always go up that side, and it does look forlorn."
"That's so! And all the more because my pew, that's exactly opposite in the left wing, is new carpeted and cushioned," replied the president. "I think it's real generous of you, Nancy, because the Riverboro folks, knowing that you're a member of the carpet committee, will be sure to notice, and think it's queer you have n't made an effort to carpet your own pew."
"Never mind!" smiled Nancy wearily. "Riverboro folks never go to bed on Saturday nights without wondering what Edgewood is thinking about them!"
The minister's wife stood at her window watching Nancy as she passed the parsonage.
"How wasted! How wasted!" she sighed. "Going home to eat her lonely supper and feed 'Zekiel.... I can bear it for the others, but not for Nancy.... Now she has lighted her lamp,... now she has put fresh pine on the fire, for new smoke comes from the chimney. Why should I sit down and serve my dear husband, and Nancy feed 'Zekiel?"
There was some truth in Mrs. Baxter's feeling. Mrs. Buzzell, for instance, had three sons; Maria Sharp was absorbed in her lame father and her Sunday-School work; and Lobelia Brewster would not have considered matrimony a blessing, even under the most favorable conditions. But Nancy was framed and planned for other things, and 'Zekiel was an insufficient channel for her soft, womanly sympathy and her bright activity of mind and body.
'Zekiel had lost his tail in a mowing-machine; 'Zekiel had the asthma, and the immersion of his nose in milk made him sneeze, so he was wont to slip his paw in and out of the dish and lick it patiently for five minutes together. Nancy often watched him pityingly, giving him kind and gentle words to sustain his fainting spirit, but tonight she paid no heed to him, although he sneezed violently to attract her attention.
She had put her supper on the lighted table by the kitchen window and was pouring out her cup of tea, when a boy rapped at the door. "Here's a paper and a letter, Miss Wentworth," he said. "It's the second this week, and they think over to the store that that Berwick widower must be settin' up and takin' notice!"
She had indeed received a letter the day before, an unsigned communication, consisting only of the words,—
Second Epistle of John. Verse x2.
She had taken her Bible to look out the reference and found it to be:—
Having many tilings to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full.
The envelope was postmarked New York, and she smiled, thinking that Mrs. Emerson, a charming lady who had spent the summer in Edgewood, and had sung with her in the village choir, was coming back, as she had promised, to have a sleigh ride and see Edgewood in its winter dress. Nancy had almost forgotten the first letter in the excitements of her busy day, and now here was another, from Boston this time. She opened the envelope and found again only a simple sentence, printed, not written. (Lest she should guess the hand, she wondered?)
Second Epistle of John. Verse 5.— And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another.
Was it Mrs. Emerson? Could it be—any one else? Was it? No, it might have been, years ago; but not now; not now!—And yet; he was always so different from other people; and once, in church, he had handed her the hymn-book with his finger pointing to a certain verse.
She always fancied that her secret fidelity of heart rose from the fact that Justin Peabody was "different." From the hour of their first acquaintance, she was ever comparing him with his companions, and always to his advantage. So long as a woman finds all men very much alike (as Lobelia Brewster did, save that she allowed some to be worse!), she is in no danger. But the moment in which she perceives and discriminates subtle differences, marveling that there can be two opinions about a man's superiority, that moment the miracle has happened.
And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another.
No, it could not be from Justin. She drank her tea, played with her beans abstractedly, and nibbled her slice of steaming brown bread.
Not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee.
No, not a new one; twelve, fifteen years old, that commandment!
That we love one another.
Who was speaking? Who had written these words? The first letter sounded just like Mrs. Emerson, who had said she was a very poor correspondent, but that she should just "drop down" on Nancy one of these days; but this second letter never came from Mrs. Emerson.—Well, there would be an explanation some time; a pleasant one; one to smile over, and tell 'Zekiel and repeat to the neighbors; but not an unexpected, sacred, beautiful explanation, such a one as the heart of a woman could imagine, if she were young enough and happy enough to hope. She washed her cup and plate; replaced the uneaten beans in the brown pot, and put them away with the round loaf, folded the cloth (Lobelia Brewster said Nancy always "set out her meals as if she was entertainin' company from Portland"), closed the stove dampers, carried the lighted lamp to a safe corner shelf, and lifted 'Zekiel to his cushion on the high-backed rocker, doing all with the nice precision of long habit. Then she wrapped herself warmly, and locking the lonely little house behind her, set out to finish her work in the church.
V. At this precise moment Justin Peabody was eating his own beans and brown bread (articles of diet of which his Detroit landlady was lamentably ignorant) at the new tavern, not far from the meeting-house.
It would not be fair to him to say that Mrs. Burbank's letter had brought him back to Edgewood, but it had certainly accelerated his steps.
For the first six years after Justin Peabody left home, he had drifted about from place to place, saving every possible dollar of his uncertain earnings in the conscious hope that he could go back to New England and ask Nancy Wentworth to marry him. The West was prosperous and progressive, but how he yearned, in idle moments, for the grimmer and more sterile soil that had given him birth!
Then came what seemed to him a brilliant chance for a lucky turn of his savings, and he invested them in an enterprise which, wonderfully as it promised, failed within six months and left him penniless. At that moment he definitely gave up all hope, and for the next few years he put Nancy as far as possible out of his mind, in the full belief that he was acting an honorable part in refusing to drag her into his tangled and fruitless way of life. If she ever did care for him,—and he could not be sure, she was always so shy,—she must have outgrown the feeling long since, and be living happily, or at least contentedly, in her own way. He was glad in spite of himself when he heard that she had never married; but at least he had n't it on his conscience that he had kept her single!
On the 17th of December, Justin, his business day over, was walking toward the dreary house in which he ate and slept. As he turned the corner, he heard one woman say to another, as they watched a man stumbling sorrowfully down the street: "Going home will be the worst of all for him—to find nobody there!" That was what going home had meant for him these ten years, but he afterward felt it strange that this thought should have struck him so forcibly on that particular day. Entering the boarding-house, he found Mrs. Burbank's letter with its Edgewood postmark on the hall table, and took it up to his room. He kindled a little fire in the air-tight stove, watching the flame creep from shavings to kindlings, from kindlings to small pine, and from small pine to the round, hardwood sticks; then when the result seemed certain, he closed the stove door and sat down to read the letter. Whereupon all manner of strange things happened in his head and heart and flesh and spirit as he sat there alone, his hands in his pockets, his feet braced against the legs of the stove.
It was a cold winter night, and the snow and sleet beat against the windows. He looked about the ugly room: at the washstand with its square of oilcloth in front and its detestable bowl and pitcher; at the rigors of his white iron bedstead, with the valley in the middle of the lumpy mattress and the darns in the rumpled pillowcases; at the dull photographs of the landlady's hideous husband and children enshrined on the mantelshelf; looked at the abomination of desolation surrounding him until his soul sickened and cried out like a child's for something more like home. It was as if a spring thaw had melted his ice-bound heart, and on the crest of a wave it was drifting out into the milder waters of some unknown sea. He could have laid his head in the kind lap of a woman and cried: "Comfort me! Give me companionship or I die!"
The wind howled in the chimney and rattled the loose window-sashes; the snow, freezing as it fell, dashed against the glass with hard, cutting little blows; at least, that is the way in which the wind and snow flattered themselves they were making existence disagreeable to Justin Peabody when he read the letter; but never were elements more mistaken.
It was a June Sunday in the boarding-house bedroom; and for that matter it was not the boarding-house bedroom at all: it was the old Orthodox church on Tory Hill in Edgewood. The windows were wide open, and the smell of the purple clover and the humming of the bees were drifting into the sweet, wide spaces within. Justin was sitting in the end of the Peabody pew, and Nancy Wentworth was beside him; Nancy, cool and restful in her white dress; dark-haired Nancy under the shadow of her shirred muslin hat.
Rise, my soul, and stretch thy wings, Thy better portion trace.
The melodeon gave the tune, and Nancy and he stood to sing, taking the book between them. His hand touched hers, and as the music of the hymn rose and fell, the future unrolled itself before his eyes: a future in which Nancy was his wedded wife; and the happy years stretched on and on in front of them until there was a row of little heads in the old Peabody pew, and mother and father could look proudly along the line at the young things they were bringing into the house of the Lord.
The recalling of that vision worked like magic in Justin's blood. His soul rose and stretched its wings and "traced its better portion" vividly, as he sprang to his feet and walked up and down the bedroom floor. He would get a few days' leave and go back to Edgewood for Christmas, to join, with all the old neighbors, in the service at the meetinghouse; and in pursuance of this resolve, he shook his fist in the face of the landlady's husband on the mantelpiece and dared him to prevent.
He had a salary of fifty dollars a month, with some very slight prospect of an increase after January. He did not see how two persons could eat, and drink, and lodge, and dress on it in Detroit, but he proposed to give Nancy Wentworth the refusal of that magnificent future, that brilliant and tempting offer. He had exactly one hundred dollars in the bank, and sixty or seventy of them would be spent in the journeys, counting two happy, blessed fares back from Edgewood to Detroit; and if he paid only his own fare back, he would throw the price of the other into the pond behind the Wentworth house. He would drop another ten dollars into the plate on Christmas Day toward the repairs on the church; if he starved, he would do that. He was a failure. Everything his hand touched turned to naught. He looked himself full in the face, recognizing his weakness, and in this supremest moment of recognition he was a stronger man than he had been an hour before. His drooping shoulders had straightened; the restless look had gone from his eyes; his somber face had something of repose in it, the repose of a settled purpose. He was a failure, but perhaps if he took the risks (and if Nancy would take them—but that was the trouble, women were so unselfish, they were always willing to take risks, and one ought not to let them!), perhaps he might do better in trying to make a living for two than he had in working for himself alone. He would go home, tell Nancy that he was an unlucky good-for-naught, and ask her if she would try her hand at making him over.
VI. These were the reasons that had brought Justin Peabody to Edgewood on the Saturday afternoon before Christmas, and had taken him to the new tavern on Tory Hill, near the meeting-house.
Nobody recognized him at the station or noticed him at the tavern, and after his supper he put on his overcoat and started out for a walk, aimlessly hoping that he might meet a friend, or failing that, intending to call on some of his old neighbors, with the view of hearing the village news and securing some information which might help him to decide when he had better lay himself and his misfortunes at Nancy Wentworth's feet. They were pretty feet! He remembered that fact well enough under the magical influence of familiar sights and sounds and odors. He was restless, miserable, anxious, homesick—not for Detroit, but for some heretofore unimagined good; yet, like Bunyan's shepherd boy in the Valley of humiliation, he carried "the herb called Heartsease in his bosom," for he was at last loving consciously.
How white the old church looked, and how green the blinds! It must have been painted very lately: that meant that the parish was fairly prosperous. There were new shutters in the belfry tower, too; he remembered the former open space and the rusty bell, and he liked the change. Did the chimney use to be in that corner? No; but his father had always said it would have drawn better if it had been put there in the beginning. New shingles within a year: that was evident to a practiced eye. He wondered if anything had been done to the inside of the building, but he must wait until the morrow to see, for, of course, the doors would be locked. No; the one at the right side was ajar. He opened it softly and stepped into the tiny square entry that he recalled so well—the one through which the Sunday-School children ran out to the steps from their catechism, apparently enjoying the sunshine after a spell of orthodoxy; the little entry where the village girls congregated while waiting for the last bell to ring—they made a soft blur of pink and blue and buff, a little flutter of curls and braids and fans and sun-shades, in his mind's eye, as he closed the outer door behind him and gently opened the inner one. The church was flooded with moon-light and snowlight, and there was one lamp burning at the back of the pulpit; a candle, too, on the pulpit steps. There was the tip-tap-tip of a tack-hammer going on in a distant corner. Was somebody hanging Christmas garlands? The new red carpet attracted his notice, and as he grew accustomed to the dim light, it carried his eye along the aisle he had trod so many years of Sundays, to the old familiar pew. The sound of the hammer ceased, and a woman rose from her knees. A stranger was doing for the family honor what he ought himself to have done. The woman turned to shake her skirt, and it was Nancy Wentworth. He might have known it. Women were always faithful; they always remembered old land-marks, old days, old friends, old duties. His father and mother and Esther were all gone; who but dear Nancy would have made the old Peabody pew right and tidy for the Christmas festival? Bless her kind, womanly heart!
She looked just the same to him as when he last saw her. Mercifully he seemed to have held in remembrance all these years not so much her youthful bloom as her general qualities of mind and heart: her cheeriness, her spirit, her unflagging zeal, her bright womanliness. Her gray dress was turned up in front over a crimson moreen petticoat. She had on a cozy jacket, a fur turban of some sort with a red breast in it, and her cheeks were flushed from exertion. "Sweet records, and promises as sweet," had always met in Nancy's face, and either he had forgotten how pretty she was, or else she had absolutely grown prettier during his absence.
Nancy would have chosen the supreme moment of meeting very differently, but she might well have chosen worse. She unpinned her skirt and brushed the threads off, smoothed the pew cushions carefully, and took a last stitch in the ragged hassock. She then lifted the Bible and the hymn-book from the rack, and putting down a bit of flannel on the pulpit steps, took a flatiron from an oil-stove, and opening the ancient books, pressed out the well-thumbed leaves one by one with infinite care. After replacing the volumes in their accustomed place, she first extinguished the flame of her stove, which she tucked out of sight, and then blew out the lamp and the candle. The church was still light enough for objects to be seen in a shadowy way, like the objects in a dream, and Justin did not realize that he was a man in the flesh, looking at a woman; spying, it might be, upon her privacy. He was one part of a dream and she another, and he stood as if waiting, and fearing, to be awakened.
Nancy, having done all, came out of the pew, and standing in the aisle, looked back at the scene of her labors with pride and content. And as she looked, some desire to stay a little longer in the dear old place must have come over her, or some dread of going back to her lonely cottage, for she sat down in Justin's corner of the pew with folded hands, her eyes fixed dreamily on the pulpit and her ears hearing:—
Not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning.
Justin's grasp on the latch tightened as he prepared to close the door and leave the place, but his instinct did not warn him quickly enough, after all, for, obeying some uncontrollable impulse, Nancy suddenly fell on her knees in the pew and buried her face in the cushions. The dream broke, and in an instant Justin was a man—worse than that, he was an eavesdropper, ashamed of his unsuspected presence. He felt himself standing, with covered head and feet shod, in the holy temple of a woman's heart.
But his involuntary irreverence brought abundant grace with it. The glimpse and the revelation wrought their miracles silently and irresistibly, not by the slow processes of growth which Nature demands for her enterprises, but with the sudden swiftness of the spirit. In an instant changes had taken place in Justin's soul which his so-called "experiencing religion" twenty-five years back had been powerless to effect. He had indeed been baptized then, but the recording angel could have borne witness that this second baptism fructified the first, and became the real herald of the new birth and the new creature.
VII. Justin Peabody silently closed the inner door, and stood in the entry with his head bent and his heart in a whirl until he should hear Nancy rise to her feet. He must take this Heaven-sent chance of telling her all, but how do it without alarming her?
A moment, and her step sounded in the stillness of the empty church.
Obeying the first impulse, he passed through the outer door, and standing on the step, knocked once, twice, three times; then, opening it a little and speaking through the chink, he called, "Is Miss Nancy Wentworth here?"
"I'm here!" in a moment came Nancy's answer; and then, with a little wondering tremor in her voice, as if a hint of the truth had already dawned: "What's wanted?"
"You're wanted, Nancy, wanted badly, by Justin Peabody, come back from the West."
The door opened wide, and Justin faced Nancy standing halfway down the aisle, her eyes brilliant, her lips parted. A week ago Justin's apparition confronting her in the empty meeting-house after nightfall, even had she been prepared for it as now, by his voice, would have terrified her beyond measure. Now it seemed almost natural and inevitable. She had spent these last days in the church where both of them had been young and happy together; the two letters had brought him vividly to mind, and her labor in the old Peabody pew had been one long excursion into the past in which he was the most prominent and the best-loved figure.
"I said I'd come back to you when my luck turned, Nancy."
These were so precisely the words she expected him to say, should she ever see him again face to face, that for an additional moment they but heightened her sense of unreality.
"Well, the luck hasn't turned, after all, but I could n't wait any longer. Have you given a thought to me all these years, Nancy?"
"More than one, Justin." For the very look upon his face, the tenderness of his voice, the attitude of his body, outran his words and told her what he had come home to say, told her that her years of waiting were over at last.
"You ought to despise me for coming back again with only myself and my empty hands to offer you."
How easy it was to speak his heart out in this dim and quiet place! How tongue-tied he would have been, sitting on the black hair-cloth sofa in the Wentworth parlor and gazing at the open soapstone stove!
"Oh, men are such fools!" cried Nancy, smiles and tears struggling together in her speech, as she sat down suddenly in her own pew and put her hands over her face.
"They are," agreed Justin humbly; "but I've never stopped loving you, whenever I've had time for thinking or loving. And I was n't sure that you really cared anything about me; and how could I have asked you when I had n't a dollar in the world?"
"There are other things to give a woman besides dollars, Justin."
"Are there? Well, you shall have them all, every one of them, Nancy, if you can make up your mind to do without the dollars; for dollars seem to be just what I can't manage."
Her hand was in his by this time, and they were sitting side by side, in the cushionless, carpetless Wentworth pew. The door stood open; the winter moon shone in upon them. That it was beginning to grow cold in the church passed unnoticed. The grasp of the woman's hand seemed to give the man new hope and courage, and Justin's warm, confiding, pleading pressure brought balm to Nancy, balm and healing for the wounds her pride had suffered; joy, too, half-conscious still, that her life need not be lived to the end in unfruitful solitude. She had waited, "as some gray lake lies, full and smooth, awaiting the star below the twilight."
Justin Peabody might have been no other woman's star, but he was Nancy's! "Just you sitting beside me here makes me feel as if I'd been asleep or dead all these years, and just born over again," said Justin. "I've led a respectable, hard-working, honest life, Nancy," he continued, "and I don't owe any man a cent; the trouble is that no man owes me one. I've got enough money to pay two fares back to Detroit on Monday, although I was terribly afraid you would n't let me do it. It'll need a good deal of thinking and planning, Nancy, for we shall be very poor."
Nancy had been storing up fidelity and affection deep, deep in the hive of her heart all these years, and now the honey of her helpfulness stood ready to be gathered.
"Could I keep hens in Detroit?" she asked. "I can always make them pay."
"Hens—in three rooms, Nancy?"
Her face fell. "And no yard?"
A moment's pause, and then the smile came. "Oh, well, I've had yards and hens for thirty-five years. Doing without them will be a change. I can take in sewing."
"No, you can't, Nancy. I need your backbone and wits and pluck and ingenuity, but if I can't ask you to sit with your hands folded for the rest of your life, as I'd like to, you shan't use them for other people. You're marrying me to make a man of me, but I'm not marrying you to make you a drudge."
His voice rang clear and true in the silence, and Nancy's heart vibrated at the sound.
"O Justin, Justin! there's something wrong somewhere," she whispered, "but we'll find it out together, you and I, and make it right. You're not like a failure. You don't even look poor, Justin; there is n't a man in Edgewood to compare with you, or I should be washing his dishes and darning his stockings this minute. And I am not a pauper! There'll be the rent of my little house and a carload of my furniture, so you can put the three-room idea out of your mind, and your firm will offer you a larger salary when you tell them you have a wife to take care of. Oh, I see it all, and it is as easy and bright and happy as can be!"
Justin put his arm around her and drew her close, with such a throb of gratitude for her belief and trust that it moved him almost to tears. There was a long pause; then he said:—
"Now I shall call for you tomorrow morning after the last bell has stopped ringing, and we will walk up the aisle together and sit in the old Peabody pew. We shall be a nine days' wonder anyway, but this will be equal to an announcement, especially if you take my arm. We don't either of us like to be stared at, but this will show without a word what we think of each other and what we've promised to be to each other, and it's the only thing that will make me feel sure of you and settled in my mind after all these mistaken years. Have you got the courage, Nancy?"
"I should n't wonder! I guess if I've had courage enough to wait for you, I've got courage enough to walk up the aisle with you and marry you besides!" said Nancy.—"Now it is too late for us to stay here any longer, and you must see me only as far as my gate, for perhaps you have n't forgotten yet how interested the Brewsters are in their neighbors."
They stood at the little Wentworth gate for a moment, hand close clasped in hand. The night was clear, the air was cold and sparkling, but with nothing of bitterness in it, the sky was steely blue, and the evening star glowed and burned like a tiny sun. Nancy remembered the shepherd's song she had taught the Sunday-School children, and repeated softly:—
For I my sheep was watching Beneath the silent skies, When sudden, far to eastward, I saw a star arise; Then all the peaceful heavens With sweetest music rang, And glory, glory, glory! The happy angels sang.
So I this night am joyful, Though I can scarce tell why, It seemeth me that glory Hath met us very nigh; And we, though poor and humble, Have part in heavenly plan, For, born tonight, the Prince of Peace Shall rule the heart of man.
Justin's heart melted within him like wax to the woman's vision and the woman's touch.
"Oh, Nancy, Nancy!" he whispered. "If I had brought my bad luck to you long, long ago, would you have taken me then, and have I lost years of such happiness as this?"
"There are some things it is not best for a man to be certain about," said Nancy, with a wise smile and a last goodnight.
VIII. Ring out, sweet bells
Ring out, sweet bells, O'er woods and dells Your lovely strains repeat, While happy throngs With joyous songs Each accent gladly greet.
Christmas morning in the old Tory Hill Meeting-House was felt by all of the persons who were present in that particular year to be a most exciting and memorable occasion.
The old sexton quite outdid himself, for although he had rung the bell for more than thirty years, he had never felt greater pride or joy in his task. Was not his son John home for Christmas, and John's wife, and a grand-child newly named Nathaniel for himself? Were there not spareribs and turkeys and cranberries and mince pies on the pantry shelves, and barrels of rosy Baldwins in the cellar and bottles of mother's root beer just waiting to give a holiday pop? The bell itself forgot its age and the suspicion of a crack that dulled its voice on a damp day, and, inspired by the bright, frosty air, the sexton's inspiring pull, and the Christmas spirit, gave out nothing but joyous tones.
Ding-dong! Ding-dong! It fired the ambitions of star scholars about to recite hymns and sing solos. It thrilled little girls expecting dolls before night. It excited beyond bearing dozens of little boys being buttoned into refractory overcoats. Ding-dong! Ding-dong! Mothers' fingers trembled when they heard it, and mothers' voices cried: "If that is the second bell, the children will never be ready in time! Where are the overshoes? Where are the mittens? Hurry, Jack! Hurry, Jennie!" Ding-dong! Ding-dong! "Where's Sally's muff? Where's father's fur cap? Is the sleigh at the door? Are the hot soapstones in? Have all of you your money for the contribution box?" Ding-dong! Ding-dong! It was a blithe bell, a sweet, true bell, a holy bell, and to Justin pacing his tavern room, as to Nancy trembling in her maiden chamber, it rang a Christmas message:—
Awake, glad heart! Arise and sing; It is the birthday of thy King!
The congregation filled every seat in the old meeting-house. As Maria Sharp had prophesied, there was one ill-natured spinster from a rival village who declared that the church floor looked like Joseph's coat laid out smooth; but in the general chorus of admiration, approval, and goodwill, this envious speech, though repeated from mouth to mouth, left no sting.
Another item of interest long recalled was the fact that on that august and unapproachable day the pulpit vases stood erect and empty, though Nancy Wentworth had filled them every Sunday since any one could remember. This instance, though felt at the time to be of mysterious significance if the cause were ever revealed, paled into nothingness when, after the ringing of the last bell, Nancy Wentworth walked up the aisle on Justin Peabody's arm, and they took their seats side by side in the old family pew.
("And consid'able close, too, though there was plenty o' room!")
("And no one that I ever heard of so much as suspicioned that they had ever kept company!")
("And do you s'pose she knew Justin was expected back when she scrubbed his pew a-Friday? ")
("And this explains the empty pulpit vases! ")
("And I always said that Nancy would make a real handsome couple if she ever got anybody to couple with!")
During the unexpected and solemn procession of the two up the aisle the soprano of the village choir stopped short in the middle of the Doxology, and the three other voices carried it to the end without any treble. Also, among those present there were some who could not remember afterward the precise petitions wafted upward in the opening prayer.
And could it be explained otherwise than by cheerfully acknowledging the bounty of an overruling Providence that Nancy Wentworth should have had a new winter dress for the first time in five years—a winter dress of dark brown cloth to match her beaver muff and victorine? The existence of this toilette had been known and discussed in Edgewood for a month past, and it was thought to be nothing more than a proper token of respect from a member of the carpet committee to the general magnificence of the church on the occasion of its reopening after repairs. Indeed, you could have identified every member of the Dorcas Society that Sunday morning by the freshness of her apparel. The brown dress, then, was generally expected; but why the white cashmere waist with collar and cuffs of point lace, devised only and suitable only for the minister's wedding, where it first saw the light?
"The white waist can only be explained as showing distinct hope!" whispered the minister's wife during the reading of the church notices.
"To me it shows more than hope; I am very sure that Nancy would never take any wear out of that lace for hope; it means certainty!" answered Maria, who was always strong in the prophetic line.
Justin's identity had dawned upon most of the congregation by sermon time. A stranger to all but one or two at first, his presence in the Peabody pew brought his face and figure back, little by little, to the minds of the old parishioners.
When the contribution plate was passed, the sexton always began at the right-wing pews, as all the sextons before him had done for a hundred years. Every eye in the church was already turned upon Justin and Nancy, and it was with almost a gasp that those in the vicinity saw a ten-dollar bill fall in the plate. The sexton reeled, or, if that is too intemperate a word for a pillar of the church, the good man tottered, but caught hold of the pew rail with one hand, and, putting the thumb of his other over the bill, proceeded quickly to the next pew, lest the stranger should think better of his gift, or demand change, as had occasionally been done in the olden time.
Nancy never fluttered an eyelash, but sat quietly by Justin's side with her bosom rising and falling under the beaver fur and her cold hands clasped tight in the little brown muff. Far from grudging this appreciable part of their slender resources, she thrilled with pride to see Justin's offering fall in the plate.
Justin was too absorbed in his own thoughts to notice anything, but his munificent contribution had a most unexpected effect upon his reputation, after all; for on that day, and on many another later one, when his sudden marriage and departure with Nancy Wentworth were under discussion, the neighbors said to one another:—"Justin must be making money fast out West! He put ten dollars in the contribution plate a-Sunday, and paid the minister ten more next day for marryin' him to Nancy; so the Peabody luck has turned at last!"—which as a matter of fact, it had.
"And all the time," said the chairman of the carpet committee to the treasurer of the Dorcas Society—"all the time, little as she realized it, Nancy was laying the carpet in her own pew. Now she's married to Justin, she'll be the makin' of him, or I miss my guess. You can't do a thing with men-folks without they're right alongside where you can keep your eye and hand on 'em. Justin's handsome and good and stiddy; all he needs is some nice woman to put starch into him. The Edgewood Peabodys never had a mite o' stiffenin' in 'em,—limp as dishrags, every blessed one! Nancy Wentworth fairly rustles with starch. Justin had n't been engaged to her but a few hours when they walked up the aisle together, but did you notice the way he carried his head? I declare I thought 't would fall off behind! I should n't wonder a mite but they prospered and come back every summer to set in the Old Peabody Pew."
SUSANNA AND SUE
I. Mother Ann's Children
It was the end of May, when "spring goeth all in white." The apple trees were scattering their delicate petals on the ground, dropping them over the stone walls to the roadsides, where in the moist places of the shadows they fell on beds of snowy innocence. Here and there a single tree was tinged with pink, but so faintly, it was as if the white were blushing. Now and then a tiny white butterfly danced in the sun and pearly clouds strayed across the sky in fleecy flocks.
Everywhere the grass was of ethereal greenness, a greenness drenched with the pale yellow of spring sunshine. Looking from earth to sky and from blossom to blossom, the little world of the apple orchards, shedding its falling petals like fair-weather snow, seemed made of alabaster and porcelain, ivory and mother-of-pearl, all shimmering on a background of tender green.
After you pass Albion village, with its streets shaded by elms and maples and its outskirts embowered in blossoming orchards, you wind along a hilly country road that runs between grassy fields. Here the whiteweed is already budding, and there are pleasant pastures dotted with rocks and fringed with spruce and fir; stretches of woodland, too, where the road is lined with giant pines and you lift your face gratefully to catch the cool balsam breath of the forest. Coming from out this splendid shade, this silence too deep to be disturbed by light breezes or vagrant winds, you find yourself on the brow of a descending hill. The first thing that strikes the eye is a lake that might be a great blue sapphire dropped into the verdant hollow where it lies. When the eye reluctantly leaves the lake on the left, it turns to rest upon the little Shaker Settlement on the right—a dozen or so large comfortable white barns, sheds, and houses, standing in the wide orderly spaces of their own spreading acres of farm and timber land. There again the spring goeth all in white, for there is no spot to fleck the dazzling quality of Shaker paint, and their apple, plum, and pear trees are so well cared for that the snowy blossoms are fairly hiding the branches.
The place is very still, although there are signs of labor in all directions. From a window of the girls' building a quaint little gray-clad figure is beating a braided rug; a boy in homespun, with his hair slightly long in the back and cut in a straight line across the forehead, is carrying milk-cans from the dairy to one of the Sisters' Houses. Men in broad-brimmed hats, with clean-shaven, ascetic faces, are ploughing or harrowing here and there in the fields, while a group of Sisters is busy setting out plants and vines in some beds near a cluster of noble trees. That cluster of trees, did the eye of the stranger realize it, was the very starting-point of this Shaker Community, for in the year 1785, the valiant Father James Whittaker, one of Mother Ann Lee's earliest English converts, stopped near the village of Albion on his first visit to Maine. As he and his Elders alighted from their horses, they stuck into the ground the willow withes they had used as whips, and now, a hundred years later, the trees that had grown from these slender branches were nearly three feet in diameter.
From whatever angle you look upon the Settlement, the first and strongest impression is of quiet order, harmony, and a kind of austere plenty. Nowhere is the purity of the spring so apparent. Nothing is out of place; nowhere is any confusion, or appearance of loose ends, or neglected tasks. As you come nearer, you feel the more surely that here there has never been undue haste nor waste; no shirking, no putting off till the morrow what should have been done today. Whenever a shingle or a clapboard was needed it was put on, where paint was required it was used,—that is evident; and a look at the great barns stored with hay shows how the fields have been conscientiously educated into giving a full crop.
To such a spot as this might any tired or sinful heart come for rest; hoping somehow, in the midst of such frugality and thrift, such self-denying labor, such temperate use of God's good gifts, such shining cleanliness of outward things, to regain and wear "the white flower of a blameless life." The very air of the place breathed peace, so thought Susanna Hathaway; and little Sue, who skipped by her side, thought nothing at all save that she was with mother in the country; that it had been rather a sad journey, with mother so quiet and pale, and that she would be very glad to see supper, should it rise like a fairy banquet in the midst of these strange surroundings.
It was only a mile and a half from the railway station to the Shaker Settlement, and Susanna knew the road well, for she had driven over it more than once as child and girl. A boy would bring the little trunk that contained their simple necessities later on in the evening, so she and Sue would knock at the door of the house where visitors were admitted, and be undisturbed by any gossiping company while they were pleading their case.
"Are we most there, Mardie?" asked Sue for the twentieth time. "Look at me! I'm being a butterfly, or perhaps a white pigeon. No, I'd rather be a butterfly, and then I can skim along faster and move my wings!"
The airy little figure, all lightness and brightness, danced along the road, the white cotton dress rising and falling, the white-stockinged legs much in evidence, the arms outstretched as if in flight, straw hat falling off yellow hair, and a little wisp of swansdown scarf floating out behind like the drapery of a baby Mercury.
"We are almost there," her mother answered. "You can see the buildings now, if you will stop being a butterfly. Don't you like them?"
"Yes, I 'specially like them all so white. Is it a town, Mardie?"
"It is a village, but not quite like other villages. I have told you often about the Shaker Settlement, where your grandmother brought me once when I was just your age. There was a thunder-storm; they kept us all night, and were so kind that I never forgot them. Then your grandmother and I stopped off once when we were going to Boston. I was ten then, and I remember more about it. The same sweet Eldress was there both times."
"What is an El-der-ess, Mardie?"
"A kind of everybody's mother, she seemed to be," Susanna responded, with a catch in her breath.
"I'd 'specially like her; will she be there now, Mardie?"
"I'm hoping so, but it is eighteen years ago. I was ten and she was about forty, I should think."
"Then o' course she'll be dead," said Sue, cheerfully, "or either she'll have no teeth or hair."
"People don't always die before they are sixty, Sue."
"Do they die when they want to, or when they must?"
"Always when they must; never, never when they want to," answered Sue's mother.
"But o' course they would n't ever want to if they had any little girls to be togedder with, like you and me, Mardie?" And Sue looked up with eyes that were always like two interrogation points, eager by turns and by turns wistful, but never satisfied.
"No," Susanna replied brokenly, "of course they would n't, unless sometimes they were wicked for a minute or two and forgot."
"Do the Shakers shake all the time, Mardie, or just once in a while? And shall I see them do it?"
"Sue, dear, I can't explain everything in the world to you while you are so little; you really must wait until you're more grown up. The Shakers don't shake and the Quakers don't quake, and when you're older, I'll try to make you understand why they were called so and why they kept the name."
"Maybe the El-der-ess can make me understand right off now; I'd 'specially like it." And Sue ran breathlessly along to the gate where the North Family House stood in its stately, white-and-green austerity.
Susanna followed, and as she caught up with the impetuous Sue, the front door of the house opened and a figure appeared on the threshold. Mother and child quickened their pace and went up the steps, Susanna with a hopeless burden of fear and embarrassment clogging her tongue and dragging at her feet; Sue so expectant of new disclosures and fresh experiences that her face beamed like a full moon.
Eldress Abby (for it was Eldress Abby) had indeed survived the heavy weight of her fifty-five or sixty summers, and looked as if she might reach a yet greater age. She wore the simple Shaker afternoon dress of drab alpaca; an irreproachable muslin surplice encircled her straight, spare shoulders, while her hair was almost entirely concealed by the stiffly wired, transparent white-net cap that served as a frame to the tranquil face. The face itself was a network of delicate, fine wrinkles; but every wrinkle must have been as lovely in God's sight as it was in poor unhappy Susanna Hathaway's. Some of them were graven by self-denial and hard work; others perhaps meant the giving up of home, of parents and brothers or sisters; perhaps some worldly love, the love that Father Adam bequeathed to the human family, had been slain in Abby's youth, and the scars still remained to show the body's suffering and the spirit's triumph. At all events, whatever foes had menaced her purity or her tranquillity had been conquered, and she exhaled serenity as the rose sheds fragrance.
"Do you remember the little Nelson girl and her mother that stayed here all night, years ago?" asked Susanna, putting out her hand timidly.
"Why, seems to me I do," assented Eldress Abby, genially. "So many comes and goes it's hard to remember all. Did n't you come once in a thunder-storm?"
"Yes, one of your barns was struck by lightning and we sat up all night." "Yee, yee.(1) I remember well! Your mother was a beautiful spirit. I could n't forget her."
(1)"Yea" is always thus pronounced by the Shakers.
"And we came once again, mother and I, and spent the afternoon with you, and went strawberrying in the pasture."
"Yee, yee, so we did; I hope your mother continues in health."
"She died the very next year," Susanna answered in a trembling voice, for the time of explanation was near at hand and her heart failed her.
"Won't you come into the sittingroom and rest a while? You must be tired walking from the deepot."
"No, thank you, not just yet. I'll step into the front entry a minute.—Sue, run and sit in that rocking-chair on the porch and watch the cows going into the big barn.—Do you remember, Eldress Abby, the second time I came, how you sat me down in the kitchen with a bowl of wild strawberries to hull for supper? They were very small and ripe; I did my best, for I never meant to be careless, but the bowl slipped and fell, my legs were too short to reach the floor, and I could n't make a lap, so in trying to pick up the berries I spilled juice on nay dress, and on the white apron you had tied on for me. Then my fingers were stained and wet and the hulls kept falling in with the soft berries, and when you came in and saw me you held up your hands and said, 'Dear, dear! you have made a mess of your work!' Oh, Eldress Abby, they've come back to me all day, those words. I've tried hard to be good, but somehow I've made just such a mess of my life as I made of hulling the berries. The bowl is broken, I have n't much fruit to show, and I am all stained and draggled. I should n't have come to Albion on the five o'clock train—that was an accident; I meant to come at noon, when you could turn me away if you wanted to."
"Nay, that is not the Shaker habit," remonstrated Abby. "You and the child can sleep in one of the spare chambers at the Office Building and be welcome."
"But I want much more than that," said Susanna, tearfully. "I want to come and live here, where there is no marrying nor giving in marriage. I am so tired with my disappointments and discouragements and failures that it is no use to try any longer. I am Mrs. Hathaway, and Sue is my child, but I have left my husband for good and all, and I only want to spend the rest of my days here in peace and bring up Sue to a more tranquil life than I have ever had. I have a little money, so that I shall not be a burden to you, and I will work from morning to night at any task you set me."
"I will talk to the Family," said Eldress Abby gravely; "but there are a good many things to settle before we can say yee to all you ask."
"Let me confess everything freely and fully," pleaded Susanna, "and if you think I'm to blame, I will go away at once."
"Nay, this is no time for that. It is our duty to receive all and try all; then if you should be gathered in, you would unburden your heart to God through the Sister appointed to receive your confession."
"Will Sue have to sleep in the children's building away from me?"
"Nay, not now; you are company, not a Shaker, and anyway you could keep the child with you till she is a little older; that's not forbidden at first, though there comes a time when the ties of the flesh must be broken! All you've got to do now's to be 'pure and peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, and without hypocrisy.' That's about all there is to the Shaker creed, and that's enough to keep us all busy."
Sue ran in from the porch excitedly and caught her mother's hand.
"The cows have all gone into the barn," she chattered; "and the Shaker gentlemen are milking them, and not one of them is shaking the least bit, for I 'specially noticed; and I looked in through the porch window, and there is nice supper on a table—bread and butter and milk and dried apple sauce and gingerbread and cottage cheese. Is it for us, Mardie?"
Susanna's lip was trembling and her face was pale. She lifted her swimming eyes to the Sister's and asked, "Is it for us, Eldress Abby?"
"Yee, it's for you," she answered; "there's always a Shaker supper on the table for all who want to leave the husks and share the feast. Come right in and help yourselves. I will sit down with you."
Supper was over, and Susanna and Sue were lying in a little upper chamber under the stars. It was the very one that Susanna had slept in as a child, or that she had been put to bed in, for there was little sleep that night for any one. She had leaned on the windowsill with her mother and watched the pillar of flame and smoke ascend from the burning barn; and once in the early morning she had stolen out of bed, and, kneeling by the open window, had watched the two silent Shaker brothers who were guarding the smouldering ruins, fearful lest the wind should rise and bear any spark to the roofs of the precious buildings they had labored so hard to save.
The chamber was spotless and devoid of ornament. The paint was robin's egg blue and of a satin gloss. The shining floor was of the same color, and neat braided rugs covered exposed places near the bureau, washstand, and bed. Various useful articles of Shaker manufacture interested Sue greatly: the exquisite straw-work that covered the whisk-broom; the mending-basket, pincushion, needle-book, spool- and watch-cases, hair-receivers, pin-trays, might all have been put together by fairy fingers.
Sue's prayers had been fervent, but a trifle disjointed, covering all subjects from Jack and Fardie, to Grandma in heaven and Aunt Louisa at the farm, with special references to El-der-ess Abby and the Shaker cows, and petitions that the next day be fair so that she could see them milked. Excitement at her strange, unaccustomed surroundings had put the child's mind in a very whirl, and she had astonished her mother with a very new and disturbing version of the Lord's Prayer, ending: "God give us our debts and help us to forget our debtors and theirs shall be the glory, Amen." Now she lay quietly on the wall side of the clean, narrow bed, while her mother listened to hear the regular breathing that would mean that she was off for the land of dreams. The child's sleep would leave the mother free to slip out of bed and look at the stars; free to pray and long and wonder and suffer and repent, not wholly, but in part, for she was really at peace in all but the innermost citadel of her conscience. She had left her husband, and for the moment, at all events, she was fiercely glad; but she had left her boy, and Jack was only ten. Jack was not the helpless, clinging sort; he was a little piece of his father, and his favorite. Aunt Louisa would surely take him, and Jack would scarcely feel the difference, for he had never shown any special affection for anybody. Still he was her child, nobody could possibly get around that fact, and it was a stumbling-block in the way of forgetfulness or ease of mind. Oh, but for that, what unspeakable content she could feel in this quiet haven, this self-respecting solitude! To have her thoughts, her emotions, her words, her self, to herself once more, as she had had them before she was married at seventeen. To go to sleep in peace, without listening for a step she had once heard with gladness, but that now sometimes stumbled unsteadily on the stair; or to dream as happy women dreamed, without being roused by the voice of the present John, a voice so different from that of the past John that it made the heart ache to listen to it.
Sue's voice broke the stillness: "How long are we going to stay here, Mardie?"
"I don't know, Sue; I think perhaps as long as they'll let us."
"Will Fardie come and see us?"
"I don't expect him."
"Who'll take care of Jack, Mardie?"
"Your Aunt Louisa."
"She'll scold him awfully, but he never cries; he just says, 'Pooh! what do I care?' Oh, I forgot to pray for that very nicest Shaker gentleman that said he'd let me help him feed the calves! Had n't I better get out of bed and do it? I'd 'specially like to."
"Very well, Sue; and then go to sleep."
Safely in bed again, there was a long pause, and then the eager little voice began, "Who'll take care of Fardie now?"
"He's a big man; he does n't need anybody."
"What if he's sick?"
"We must go back to him, I suppose."
"Tomorrow 's Sunday; what if he needs us tomorrow, Mardie?"
"I don't know, I don't know! Oh, Sue, Sue, don't ask your wretched mother any more questions, for she cannot bear them tonight. Cuddle up close to her; love her and forgive her and help her to know what's right."
II. A Son of Adam
When Susanna Nelson at seventeen married John Hathaway, she had the usual cogent reasons for so doing, with some rather more unusual ones added thereto. She was alone in the world, and her life with an uncle, her mother's only relative, was an unhappy one. No assistance in the household tasks that she had ever been able to render made her a welcome member of the family or kept her from feeling a burden, and she belonged no more to the little circle at seventeen than she did when she became a part of it at twelve. The hope of being independent and earning her own living had sustained her through the last year; but it was a very timid, self-distrustful, love-starved little heart that John Hathaway stormed and carried by assault. Her girl's life in a country school and her uncle's very rigid and orthodox home had been devoid of emotion or experience; still, her mother had early sown seeds in her mind and spirit that even in the most arid soil were certain to flower into beauty when the time for flowering came; and intellectually Susanna was the clever daughter of clever parents. She was very immature, because, after early childhood, her environment had not been favorable to her development. At seventeen she began to dream of a future as bright as the past had been dreary and uneventful. Visions of happiness, of goodness, and of service haunted her, and sometimes, gleaming through the mists of dawning womanhood, the figure, all luminous, of The Man!
When John Hathaway appeared on the horizon, she promptly clothed him in all the beautiful garments of her dreams; they were a grotesque misfit, but when we intimate that women have confused the dream and the reality before, and may even do so again, we make the only possible excuse for poor little Susanna Nelson.
John Hathaway was the very image of the outer world that lay beyond Susanna's village. He was a fairly prosperous, genial, handsome young merchant, who looked upon life as a place furnished by Providence in which to have "a good time." His parents had frequently told him that it was expedient for him to "settle down," and he supposed that he might finally do so, if he should ever find a girl who would tempt him to relinquish his liberty. (The line that divides liberty and license was a little vague to John Hathaway!) It is curious that he should not have chosen for his life-partner some thoughtless, rosy, romping young person, whose highest conception of connubial happiness would have been to drive twenty miles to the seashore on a Sunday, and having partaken of all the season's delicacies, solid and liquid, to come home hilarious by moonlight. That, however, is not the way the little love-imps do their work in the world; or is it possible that they are not imps at all who provoke and stimulate and arrange these strange marriages not imps, but honest, chastening little character-builders? In any event, the moment that John Hathaway first beheld Susanna Nelson was the moment of his surrender; yet the wooing was as incomprehensible as that of a fragile, dainty little hummingbird by a pompous, greedy, big-breasted robin.
Susanna was like a New England anemone. Her face was oval in shape and as smooth and pale as a pearl. Her hair was dark, not very heavy, and as soft as a child's. Her lips were delicate and sensitive, her eyes a cool gray,—clear, steady, and shaded by darker lashes. When John Hathaway met her shy, maidenly glance and heard her pretty, dovelike voice, it is strange he did not see that there was a bit too much saint in her to make her a willing comrade of his gay, roistering life. But as a matter of fact, John Hathaway saw nothing at all; nothing but that Susanna Nelson was a lovely girl and he wanted her for his own. The type was one he had never met before, one that allured him by its mysteries and piqued him by its shy aloofness.
John had "a way with him," a way that speedily won Susanna; and after all there was a best to him as well as a worst. He had a twinkling eye, an infectious laugh, a sweet disposition, and while he was over-susceptible to the charm of a pretty face, he had a chivalrous admiration for all women, coupled, it must be confessed, with a decided lack of discrimination in values. His boyish lightheartedness had a charm for everybody, including Susanna; a charm that lasted until she discovered that his heart was light not only when it ought to be light, but when it ought to be heavy. He was very much in love with her, but there was nothing particularly exclusive, unique, individual, or interesting about his passion at that time. It was of the everyday sort which carries a well-meaning man to the altar, and sometimes, in cases of exceptional fervor and duration, even a little farther. Stock sizes of this article are common and inexpensive, and John Hathaway's love when he married Susanna was, judged by the highest standards, about as trivial an affair as Cupid ever put upon the market or a man ever offered to a woman. Susanna on the same day offered John, or the wooden idol she was worshiping as John, her whole self—mind, body, heart, and spirit. So the couple were united, and smilingly signed the marriage-register, a rite by which their love for each other was supposed to be made eternal.
"Will you love me?" said he. "Will you love me?" said she. Then they answered together: "Through foul and fair weather, From sunrise to moonrise, From moonrise to sunrise, By heath and by harbour, In orchard or arbour, In the time of the rose, In the time of the snows, Through smoke and through smother We'll love one another!"
Cinderella, when the lover-prince discovers her and fits the crystal slipper to her foot, makes short work of flinging away her rags; and in some such pretty, airy, unthinking way did Susanna fling aside the dullness, inhospitality, and ugliness of her uncle's home and depart in a cloud of glory on her wedding journey. She had been lonely, now she would have companionship. She had been of no consequence, now she would be queen of her own small domain. She had been last with everybody, now she would be first with one, at least. She had worked hard and received neither compensation nor gratitude; henceforward her service would be gladly rendered at an altar where votive offerings would not be taken as a matter of course. She was only a slip of a girl now; marriage and housewifely cares would make her a woman. Some time perhaps the last great experience of life would come to her, and then what a crown of joys would be hers,—love, husband, home, children! What a vision it was, and how soon the chief glory of it faded!
Never were two beings more hopelessly unlike than John Hathaway single and John Hathaway married, but the bliss lasted a few years, nevertheless: partly because Susanna's charm was deep and penetrating, the sort to hold a false man for a time and a true man forever; partly because she tried, as a girl or woman has seldom tried before, to do her duty and to keep her own ideal unshattered.
John had always been convivial, but Susanna at seventeen had been at once too innocent and too ignorant to judge a man's tendencies truly, or to rate his character at its real worth. As time went on, his earlier leanings grew more definite; he spent on pleasure far more than he could afford, and his conduct became a byword in the neighborhood. His boy he loved. He felt on a level with Jack, could understand him, play with him, punish him, and make friends with him; but little Sue was different. She always seemed to him the concentrated essence of her mother's soul, and when unhappy days came, he never looked in her radiant, searching eyes without a consciousness of inferiority. The little creature had loved her jolly, handsome, careless father at first, even though she feared him; but of late she had grown shy, silent, and timid, for his indifference chilled her and she flung herself upon her mother's love with an almost unchildlike intensity. This unhappy relation between the child and the father gave Susanna's heart new pangs. She still loved her husband, not dearly, but a good deal; and over and above that remnant of the old love which still endured she gave him unstinted care and hopeful maternal tenderness.
The crash came in course of time. John transcended the bounds of his wife's patience more and more. She made her last protests; then she took one passionate day to make up her mind, a day when John and the boy were away together; a day of complete revolt against everything she was facing in the present, and, so far as she could see, everything that she had to face in the future. Prayer for light left her in darkness, and she had no human creature to advise her. Conscience was overthrown; she could see no duty save to her own outraged personality. Often and often during the year just past she had thought of the peace, the grateful solitude and shelter of that Shaker Settlement hidden among New England orchards; that quiet haven where there was neither marrying nor giving in marriage. Now her bruised heart longed for such a life of nunlike simplicity and consecration, where men and women met only as brothers and sisters, where they worked side by side with no thought of personal passion or personal gain, but only for the common good of the community.
Albion village was less than three hours distant by train. She hastily gathered her plainest clothes and Sue's, packed them in a small trunk, took her mother's watch, her own little store of money and the twenty-dollar gold piece John's senior partner had given Sue on her last birthday, wrote a letter of goodbye to John, and went out of her cottage gate in a storm of feeling so tumultuous that there was no room for reflection. Besides, she had reflected, and reflected, for months and months, so she would have said, and the time had come for action. Susanna was not unlettered, but she certainly had never read Meredith or she would have learned that "love is an affair of two, and only for two that can be as quick, as constant in intercommunication as are sun and earth, through the cloud, or face to face. They take their breath of life from each other in signs of affection, proofs of faithfulness, incentives to admiration. But a solitary soul dragging a log must make the log a God to rejoice in the burden." The demigod that poor, blind Susanna married had vanished, and she could drag the log no longer, but she made one mistake in judging her husband, in that she regarded him, at thirty-two, as a finished product, a man who was finally this and that, and behaved thus and so, and would never be any different.
The "age of discretion" is a movable feast of extraordinary uncertainty, and John Hathaway was a little behindhand in overtaking it. As a matter of fact, he had never for an instant looked life squarely in the face. He took a casual glance at it now and then, after he was married, but it presented no very distinguishable features, nothing to make him stop and think, nothing to arouse in him any special sense of responsibility. Boys have a way of "growing up," however, sooner or later, at least most of them have, and that possibility was not sufficiently in the foreground of Susanna's mind when she finished what she considered an exhaustive study of her husband's character.
I am leaving you, John [she wrote], to see if I can keep the little love I have left for you as the father of my children. I seem to have lost all the rest of it living with you. I am not perfectly sure that I am right in going, for everybody seems to think that women, mothers especially, should bear anything rather than desert the home. I could not take Jack away, for you love him and he will be a comfort to you. A comfort to you, yes, but what will you be to him now that he is growing older? That is the thought that troubles me, yet I dare not take him with me when he is half yours. You will not miss me, nor will the loss of Sue make any difference. Oh, John! how can you help loving that blessed little creature, so much better and so much more gifted than either of us that we can only wonder how we came to be her father and mother? Your sin against her is greater than that against me, for at least you are not responsible for bringing me into the world. I know Louisa will take care of Jack, and she lives so near that you can see him as often as you wish. I shall let her know my address, which I have asked her to keep to herself. She will write to me if you or Jack should be seriously ill, but not for any other reason.
As for you, there is nothing more that I can say except to confess freely that I was not the right wife for you and that mine was not the only mistake. I have tried my very best to meet you in everything that was not absolutely wrong, and I have used all the arguments I could think of, but it only made matters worse. I thought I knew you, John, in the old days. How comes it that we have traveled so far apart, we who began together? It seems to me that some time you must come to your senses and take up your life seriously, for this is not life, the sorry thing you have lived lately, but I cannot wait any longer! I am tired, tired, tired of waiting and hoping, too tired to do anything but drag myself away from the sight of your folly. You have wasted our children's substance, indulged your appetites until you have lost the respect of your best friends, and you have made me—who was your choice, your wife, the head of your house, the woman who brought your children into the world—you have made me an object of pity; a poor, neglected thing who could not meet her neighbors' eyes without blushing.
When Jack and his father returned from their outing at eight o'clock in the evening, having had supper at a wayside hotel, the boy went to bed philosophically, lighting his lamp for himself, the conclusion being that the two other members of the household were a little late, but would be in presently.
The next morning was bright and fair. Jack waked at cockcrow, and after calling to his mother and Sue, jumped out of bed, ran into their rooms to find them empty, then bounced down the stairs two at a time, going through the sitting-room on his way to find Ellen in the kitchen. His father was sitting at the table with the still-lighted student lamp on it; the table where lessons had been learned, books read, stories told, mending done, checkers and dominoes played; the big, round walnut table that was the focus of the family life—but mother's table, not father's.
John Hathaway had never left his chair nor taken off his hat. His cane leaned against his knee, his gloves were in his left hand, while the right held Susanna's letter.
He was asleep, although his lips twitched and he stirred uneasily. His face was haggard, and behind his closed lids, somewhere in the center of thought and memory, a train of fiery words burned in an ever-widening circle, round and round and round, ploughing, searing their way through some obscure part of him that had heretofore been without feeling, but was now all quick and alive with sensation.
You have made me—who was your choice, your wife, the head of your house, the woman who brought your children into the world—you have made me an object of pity; a poor, neglected thing who could not meet her neighbors' eyes without blushing.
Any one who wished to pierce John Hathaway's armor at that period of his life would have had to use a very sharp and pointed arrow, for he was well wadded with the belief that a man has a right to do what he likes. Susanna's shaft was tipped with truth and dipped in the blood of her outraged heart. The stored-up force of silent years went into the speeding of it. She had never shot an arrow before, and her skill was instinctive rather than scientific, but the powers were on her side and she aimed better than she knew—those who took note of John Hathaway's behavior that summer would have testified willingly to that. It was the summer in which his boyish irresponsibility slipped away from him once and for all; a summer in which the face of life ceased to be an indistinguishable mass of meaningless events and disclosed an order, a reason, a purpose hitherto unseen and undefined. The boy "grew up," rather tardily it must be confessed. His soul had not added a cubit to its stature in sunshine, gayety, and prosperity; it took the shock of grief, hurt pride, solitude, and remorse to make a man of John Hathaway.
III. Divers Doctrines
It was a radiant July morning in Albion village, and when Sue first beheld it from the bedroom window at the Shaker Settlement, she had wished ardently that it might never, never grow dark, and that Jack and Fardie might be having the very same sunshine in Farnham. It was not noon yet, but experience had in some way tempered the completeness of her joy, for the marks of tears were on her pretty little face. She had neither been scolded nor punished, but she had been dragged away from a delicious play without any adequate reason. She had disappeared after breakfast, while Susanna was helping Sister Tabitha with the beds and the dishes, but as she was the most docile of children, her mother never thought of anxiety. At nine o'clock Eldress Abby took Susanna to the laundry house, and there under a spreading maple were Sue and the two youngest little Shakeresses, children of seven and eight respectively. Sue was directing the plays: chattering, planning, ordering, and suggesting expedients to her slower-minded and less experienced companions. They had dragged a large box from one of the sheds and set it up under the tree. The interior had been quickly converted into a commodious residence, one not in the least of a Shaker type. Small bluing-boxes served for bedstead and dining-table, bits of broken china for the dishes, while tiny flat stones were the seats, and four clothes-pins, tastefully clad in handkerchiefs, surrounded the table.
"Do they kneel in prayer before they eat, as all Believers do?" asked Shaker Mary.
"I don't believe Adam and Eve was Believers, 'cause who would have taught them to be?" replied Sue; "still we might let them pray, anyway, though clothespins don't kneel nicely."
"I've got another one all dressed," said little Shaker Jane.
"We can't have any more; Adam and Eve did n't have only two children in my Sunday-School lesson, Cain and Abel," objected Sue.
"Can't this one be a company?" pleaded Mary, anxious not to waste the clothespin.
"But where could comp'ny come from?" queried Sue. "There was n't any more people anywheres but just Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel. Put the clothespin in your apron-pocket, Jane, and bimeby we'll let Eve have a little new baby, and I'll get Mardie to name it right out of the Bible. Now let's begin. Adam is awfully tired this morning; he says, 'Eve, I've been workin' all night and I can't eat my breakfuss.' Now, Mary, you be Cain, he's a little boy, and you must say, 'Fardie, play a little with me, please!' and Fardie will say, 'Child'en should n't talk at the—'"
What subjects of conversation would have been aired at the Adamic family board before breakfast was finished will never be known, for Eldress Abby, with a firm but not unkind grasp, took Shaker Jane and Mary by their little hands and said, "Morning's not the time for play; run over to Sister Martha and help her shell the peas; then there'll be your seams to oversew."
Sue watched the disappearing children and saw the fabric of her dream fade into thin air; but she was a person of considerable individuality for her years. Her lip quivered, tears rushed to her eyes and flowed silently down her cheeks, but without a glance at Eldress Abby or a word of comment she walked slowly away from the laundry, her chin high.
"Sue meant all right, she was only playing the plays of the world," said Eldress Abby, "but you can well understand, Susanna, that we can't let our Shaker children play that way and get wrong ideas into their heads at the beginning. We don't condemn an honest, orderly marriage as a worldly institution, but we claim it has no place in Christ's kingdom; therefore we leave it to the world, where it belongs. The world's people live on the lower plane of Adam; the Shakers try to live on the Christ plane, in virgin purity, longsuffering, meekness, and patience."
"I see, I know," Susanna answered slowly, with a little glance at injured Sue walking toward the house, "but we need n't leave the children unhappy this morning, for I can think of a play that will comfort them and please you. Come back, Sue! Wait a minute, Mary and Jane, before you go to Sister Martha! We will play the story that Sister Tabitha told us last week. Do you remember about Mother Ann Lee in the English prison? The soapbox will be her cell, for it was so small she could not lie down in it. Take some of the shingles, Jane, and close up the open side of the box. Do you see the large brown spot in one of them, Mary? Push that very hard with a clothespin and there 'll be a hole through the shingle; that's right! Now, Sister Tabitha said that Mother Ann was kept for days without food, for people thought she was a wicked, dangerous woman, and they would have been willing to let her die of starvation. But there was a great keyhole in the door, and James Whittaker, a boy of nineteen, who loved Mother Ann and believed in her, put the stem of a clay pipe in the hole and poured a mixture of wine and milk through it. He managed to do this day after day, so that when the jailer opened the cell door, expecting to find Mother Ann dying for lack of food, she walked out looking almost as strong and well as when she entered. You can play it all out, and afterwards you can make the ship that brought Mother Ann and the other Shakers from Liverpool to New York. The clothes-pins can be who will they be, Jane?"
"William Lee, Nancy Lee, James Whittaker, and I forget the others," recited Jane, like an obedient parrot.
"And it will be splendid to have James Whittaker, for he really came to Albion," said Mary.
"Perhaps he stood on this very spot more than once," mused Abby. "It was Mother Ann's vision that brought them to this land, a vision of a large tree with outstretching branches, every leaf of which shone with the brightness of a burning torch! Oh! if the vision would only come true! If Believers would only come to us as many as the leaves on the tree," she sighed, as she and Susanna moved away from the group of chattering children, all as eager to play the history of Shakerism as they had been to dramatize the family life of Adam and Eve.
"There must be so many men and women without ties, living useless lives, with no aim or object in them," Susanna said, "I wonder that more of them do not find their way here. The peace and goodness and helpfulness of the life sink straight into my heart. The Brothers and Sisters are so friendly and cheery with one another; there is neither gossip nor hard words; there is pleasant work, and your thoughts seem to be all so concentrated upon right living that it is like heaven below, only I feel that the cross is there, bravely as you all bear it."
"There are roses on my cross most beautiful to see, As I turn from all the dross from which it sets me free,"
quoted Eldress Abby, devoutly.
"It is easy enough for me," continued Susanna, "for it was no cross for me to give up my husband at the time; but oh, if a woman had a considerate, loving man to live with, one who would strengthen her and help her to be good, one who would protect and cherish her, one who would be an example to his children and bring them up in the fear of the Lord—that would be heaven below, too; and how could she bear to give it all up when it seems so good, so true, so right? Might n't two people walk together to God if both chose the same path?"
"It's my belief that one can find the road better alone than when somebody else is going alongside to distract them. Not that the Lord is going to turn anybody away, not even when they bring Him a lot of burned-out trash for a gift," said Eldress Abby, bluntly. "But don't you believe He sees the difference between a person that comes to Him when there is nowhere else to turn—a person that's tried all and found it wanting—and one that gives up freely pleasure, and gain, and husband, and home, to follow the Christ life?"
"Yes, He must, He must," Susanna answered faintly. "But the children, Eldress Abby! If you had n't any, you could perhaps keep yourself from wanting them; but if you had, how could you give them up? Jesus was the great Saviour of mankind, but next to Him it seems as if the children had been the little saviours, from the time the first one was born until this very day!"
"Yee, I've no doubt they keep the worst of the world's people, those that are living in carnal marriage without a thought of godliness, I've no doubt children keep that sort from going to the lowest perdition," allowed Eldress Abby; "and those we bring up in the Community make the best converts; but to a Shaker, the greater the sacrifice, the greater the glory. I wish you was gathered in, Susanna, for your hands and feet are quick to serve, your face is turned toward the truth, and your heart is all ready to receive the revelation."
"I wish I need n't turn my back on one set of duties to take up another," murmured Susanna, timidly.
"Yee; no doubt you do. Your business is to find out which are the higher duties, and then do those. Just make up your mind whether you'd rather replenish earth, as you've been doing, or replenish heaven, as we're trying to do. But I must go to my work; ten o'clock in the morning's a poor time to be discussing doctrine! You're for weeding, Susanna, I suppose?"
Brother Ansel was seated at a grindstone under the apple trees, teaching (intermittently) a couple of boys to grind a scythe, when Susanna came to her work in the herb-garden, Sue walking discreetly at her heels.
Ansel was a slow-moving, humorously-inclined, easygoing Brother, who was drifting into the kingdom of heaven without any special effort on his part.
"I'd 'bout as lives be a Shaker as anything else," had been his rather dubious statement of faith when he requested admittance into the band of Believers. "No more crosses, accordin' to my notion, an' consid'able more chance o' crowns!"
His experience of life "on the Adamic plane," the holy estate of matrimony, being the chief sin of this way of thought, had disposed him to regard woman as an apparently necessary, but not especially desirable, being. The theory of holding property in common had no terrors for him. He was generous, unambitious, frugal-minded, somewhat lacking in energy, and just as actively interested in his brother's welfare as in his own, which is perhaps not saying much. Shakerism was to him not a craving of the spirit, not a longing of the soul, but a simple, prudent theory of existence, lessening the various risks that man is exposed to in his journey through this vale of tears.
"Womenfolks makes splendid Shakers," he was wont to say. "They're all right as Sisters, 'cause their belief makes 'em safe. It kind o' shears 'em o' their strength; tames their sperits; takes the sting out of 'em an' keeps 'em from bein' sassy an' domineerin'. Jest as long as they think marriage is right, they'll marry ye spite of anything ye can do or say—four of 'em married my father one after another, though he fit 'em off as hard as he knew how. But if ye can once get the faith o' Mother Ann into 'em, they're as good afterwards as they was wicked afore. There's no stoppin' women-folks once ye get 'em started; they don't keer whether it's heaven or the other place, so long as they get where they want to go!"
Elder Daniel Gray had heard Brother Ansel state his religious theories more than once when he was first "gathered in," and secretly lamented the lack of spirituality in the new convert. The Elder was an instrument more finely attuned; sober, humble, pure-minded, zealous, consecrated to the truth as he saw it, he labored in and out of season for the faith he held so dear; yet as the years went on, he noted that Ansel, notwithstanding his eccentric views, lived an honest, temperate, Godfearing life, talking no scandal, dwelling in unity with his brethren and sisters, and upholding the banner of Shakerism in his own peculiar way.
As Susanna approached him, Ansel called out, "The yairbs are all ready for ye, Susanna; the weeds have been on the rampage sence yesterday's rain. Seems like the more uselesser a thing is, the more it flourishes. The yairbs grow; oh, yes, they make out to grow; but you don't see 'em come leapin' an' tearin' out o' the airth like weeds. Then there's the birds! I've jest been stoppin' my grindin' to look at 'em carry on. Take 'em all in all, there ain't nothin' so lazy an' aimless an' busy 'bout nothin' as birds. They go kitin' 'roun' from tree to tree, hoppin' an' chirpin', flyin' here an' there 'thout no airthly objeck 'ceptin' to fly back ag'in. There's a heap o' useless critters in the univarse, but I guess birds are 'bout the uselessest, 'less it's grasshoppers, mebbe."
"I don't care what you say about the grasshoppers, Ansel, but you shan't abuse the birds," said Susanna, stooping over the beds of tansy and sage, thyme and summer savory. "Weeds or no weeds, we're going to have a great crop of herbs this year, Ansel!"
"Yee, so we be! We sowed more'n usual so's to keep the two jiners at work long's we could.—Take that scythe over to the barn, Jacob, an' fetch me another, an' step spry."
"What's a 'jiner,' Ansel?"
"Winter Shakers, I call 'em. They're reg'lar constitooshanal dyed-in-the-wool jiners, jinin' most anything an' hookin' on most anywheres. They jine when it comes on too cold to sleep outdoors, an' they onjine when it comes on spring. Elder Gray's always hopin' to gather in new souls, so he gives the best of 'em a few months' trial. How are ye, Hannah?" he called to a Sister passing through the orchard to search for any possible green apples under the trees. "Make us a good old-fashioned deep-dish pandowdy an' we'll all do our best to eat it!"
"I suppose the 'jiners' get discouraged and fear they can't keep up to the standard. Not everybody is good enough to lead a self-denying Shaker life," said Susanna, pushing back the close sunbonnet from her warm face, which had grown younger, smoother, and sweeter in the last few weeks.
"Nay, I s'pose likely; 'less they're same as me, a born Shaker," Ansel replied. "I don't hanker after strong drink; don't like tobaccer (always could keep my temper 'thout smokin'), ain't partic'lar 'bout meat-eatin', don't keer 'bout heapin' up riches, can't 'stand the ways o' worldly women-folks, jest as lives confess my sins to the Elder as not, 'cause I hain't sinned any to amount to anything sence I made my first confession; there I be, a natural follerer o' Mother Ann Lee."
Susanna drew her Shaker bonnet forward over her eyes and turned her back to Brother Ansel under the pretense of reaching over to the rows of sweet marjoram. She had never supposed it possible that she could laugh again, and indeed she seldom felt like it, but Ansel's interpretations of Shaker doctrine were almost too much for her latent sense of humor.
"What are you smiling at, and me so sad, Mardie?" quavered Sue, piteously, from the little plot of easy weeding her mother had given her to do. "I keep remembering my game! It was such a Christian game, too. Lots nicer than Mother Ann in prison; for Jane said her mother and father was both Believers, and nobody was good enough to pour milk through the keyhole but her. I wanted to give the clothes-pins story names, like Hilda and Percy, but I called them Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel just because I thought the Shakers would 'specially like a Bible play. I love Elderess Abby, but she does stop my happiness, Mardie. That's the second time today, for she took Moses away from me when I was kissing him because he pinched his thumb in the window."
"Why did you do that, Sue?" remonstrated her mother softly, remembering Ansel's proximity. "You never used to kiss strange little boys at home in Farnham."
"Moses is n't a boy; he's only six, and that's a baby; besides, I like him better than any little boys at home, and that's the reason I kissed him; there's no harm in boy-kissing, is there, Mardie?"
"You don't know anybody here very well yet; not well enough to kiss them," Susanna answered, rather hopeless as to the best way of inculcating the undesirability of the Adamic plane of thought at this early age. "While we stay here, Sue, we ought both to be very careful to do exactly as the Shakers do."
By this time mother and child had reached the orchard end of a row, and Brother Ansel was thirstily waiting to deliver a little more of the information with which his mind was always teeming.
"Them Boston people that come over to our public meetin' last Sunday," he began, "they was dretful scairt 'bout what would become o' the human race if it should all turn Shakers. 'I guess you need n't worry,' I says; 'it'll take consid'able of a spell to convert all you city folks,' I says, 'an' after all, what if the world should come to an end?' I says. 'If half we hear is true 'bout the way folks carry on in New York and Chicago, it's 'bout time it stopped,' I says, 'an' I guess the Lord could do a consid'able better job on a second one,' I says, 'after findin' out the weak places in this.' They can't stand givin' up their possessions, the world's folks; that's the principal trouble with 'em! If you don't have nothin' to give up, like some o' the tramps that happen along here and convince the Elder they're jest bustin' with the fear o' God, why, o' course 't ain't no trick at all to be a Believer."
"Did you have much to give up, Brother Ansel?" Susanna asked. "'Bout's much as any sinner ever had that jined this Community," replied Ansel, complacently. "The list o' what I consecrated to this Society when I was gathered in was: One horse, one wagon, one two-year-old heifer, one axe, one saddle, one padlock, one bed and bedding, four turkeys, eleven hens, one pair o' plough-irons, two chains, and eleven dollars in cash. Can you beat that?"
"Oh, yes, things," said Susanna, absent-mindedly. "I was thinking of family and friends, pleasures and memories and ambitions and hopes."
"I guess it don't pinch you any worse to give up a hope than it would a good two-year-old heifer," retorted Ansel; "but there, you can't never tell what folks'll hang on to the hardest! The man that drove them Boston folks over here last Sunday, did you notice him? the one that had the sister with a bright red dress an' hat on?—Land! I could think just how hell must look whenever my eye lighted on that girl's gitup!—Well, I done my best to exhort that driver, bein' as how we had a good chance to talk while we was hitchin' an' unhitchin' the team; an' Elder Gray always says I ain't earnest enough in preachin' the faith;—but he did n't learn anything from the meetin'. Kep' his eye on the Shaker bunnits, an' took notice o' the marchin' an' dancin', but he did n't care nothin' 'bout doctrine.
"'I draw the line at bein' a cerebrate,' he says. 'I'm willin' to sell all my goods an' divide with the poor,' he says, 'but I ain't goin' to lie no cerebrate. If I don't have no other luxuries, I will have a wife,' he says. 'I've hed three, an' if this one don't last me out, I'll get another, if it's only to start the kitchen fire in the mornin' an' put the cat in the shed nights!'"
IV. Louisa's Mind
Louisa, otherwise Mrs. Adlai Banks, the elder sister of Susanna s husband, was a rock-ribbed widow of forty-five summers,—forty-five winters would seem a better phrase in which to assert her age,—who resided on a small farm twenty miles from the manufacturing town of Farnham.
When the Fates were bestowing qualities of mind and heart upon the Hathaway babies, they gave the more graceful, genial, likable ones to John, not realizing, perhaps, what bad use he would make of them,—and endowed Louisa with great deposits of honesty, sincerity, energy, piety, and frugality, all so mysteriously compounded that they turned to granite in her hands. If she had been consulted, it would have been all the same. She would never have accepted John's charm of personality at the expense of being saddled with his weaknesses, and he would not have taken her cast-iron virtues at any price whatsoever.
She was sweeping her porch on that day in May when Susanna and Sue had wakened in the bare upper chamber at the Shaker Settlement—Sue clear-eyed, jubilant, expectant, unafraid; Susanna pale from her fitful sleep, weary with the burden of her heart.
Looking down the road, Mrs. Banks espied the form of her brother John walking in her direction and leading Jack by the hand.
This was a most unusual sight, for John's calls had been uncommonly few of late years, since a man rarely visits a lady relative for the mere purpose of hearing "a piece of her mind." This piece, large, solid, highly flavored with pepper, and as acid as mental vinegar could make it, was Louisa Banks's only contribution to conversation when she met her brother. She could not stop for any airy persiflage about weather, crops, or politics when her one desire was to tell him what she thought of him.