Homespun Tales by Kate Douglas Wiggin - HTML preview
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3. 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 SundaySchool 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 apronpocket, 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 condenm 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'boutnothin' 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!'"