Homespun Tales HTML version
5. The Little Quail Bird
Susanna had helped at various household tasks ever since her arrival at the Settlement,
for there was no room for drones in the Shaker hive; but after a few weeks in the kitchen
with Martha, the herb-garden had been assigned to her as her particular province, the
Sisters thinking her better fitted for it than for the preserving and pickling of fruit, or the
basket-weaving that needed special apprenticeship.
The Shakers were the first people to raise, put up, and sell garden seeds in our present-
day fashion, and it was they, too, who began the preparation of botanical medicines,
raising, gathering, drying, and preparing herbs and roots for market; and this industry,
driven from the field by modern machinery, was still a valuable source of income in
Susanna's day. Plants had always grown for Susanna, and she loved them like friends,
humoring their weakness, nourishing their strength, stimulating, coaxing, disciplining
them, until they could do no less than flourish under her kind and hopeful hand.
Oh, that sweet, honest, comforting little garden of herbs, with its wholesome fragrances!
Healing lay in every root and stem, in every leaf and bud, and the strong aromatic odors
stimulated her flagging spirit or her aching head, after the sleepless nights in which she
tried to decide her future life and Sue's.
The plants were set out in neat rows and clumps, and she soon learned to know the
strange ones--chamomile, lobelia, bloodroot, wormwood, lovage, boneset, lemon and
sweet balm, lavender and rue, as well as she knew the old acquaintances familiar to every
country-bred child--pennyroyal, peppermint or spearmint, yellow dock, and
There was hoeing and weeding before the gathering and drying came; then Brother
Calvin, who had charge of the great press, would moisten the dried herbs and press them
into quarter- and half-pound cakes ready for Sister Martha, who would superintend the
younger Shakeresses in papering and labeling them for the market. Last of all, when
harvesting was over, Brother Ansel would mount the newly painted seed-cart and leave
on his driving trip through the country. Ansel was a capital salesman, but Brother
Issachar, who once took his place and sold almost nothing, brought home a lad on the
seed-cart, who afterward became a shining light in the Community. ( Thus, said Elder
Gray, does God teach us the diversity of gifts, whereby all may be unashamed.")
If the Albion Shakers were honest and ardent in faith, Susanna thought that their "works"
would indeed bear the strictest examination. The Brothers made brooms, floor and dish-
mops, tubs, pails, and churns, and indeed almost every trade was represented in the
various New England Communities. Physicians there were, a few, but no lawyers,
sheriffs, policemen, constables, or soldiers, just as there were no courts or saloons or
jails. Where there was perfect equality of possession and no private source of gain, it