A NEW WORLD
A Love Story of the Shakers
BROTHER PAUL BRACKETT, on the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community, knelt beside his harrow and made pretense of rebinding the stones that weighed it. He was at the edge of the field, and he knew she would pass that way along the strip of clover sward between the stone wall and the ploughed land. She was coming now under the yellowed elm and the frost-touched maples. Her bright tin pail, as it swung, focussed the mellow light of the autumn sun. She was was bringing the drink for the men in the field. Elder Vance and his two helpers were across the shimmery expanse, staggering and halloing along with the ox-team that drugged the straining breaking-up plough. With a soft, splitting sound the brown earth sheared from the colter and lay stunning its mellow dampness up into the October haze. Brother Paul, on his knees in the soft mould, looked at them furtively and then rose an she came opposite him.
"Sister Adalia," he said tipping back his broad hat and stroking the perspiration from his brow with brown forearm, "may I have my drink here?"
"Yea," she replied, putting into the Shaker affirmative a sweetness of tone that was almost a caress. She set the pail down as he advanced and stooped to lift from it the long-handled dipper. Her workaday gingham bonnet was much deeper than the formal Shaker scoop of straw, and he did not see her face until she turned to him and extended the brimming dipper. There was as tender a caress in her eyes as her tones. The draught was water sweetened with molasses and flavored with a few spoonfuls of powdered ginger.
While he drank he gazed at her steadily, and when he handed back the dipper her cheeks were flushing. His eyes were humid and eager. Both started uneasily at the sound of Elder Vance's hoarse bellow across the field.
"Git on, git on, there!"
But he was shouting at his oxen, and the two young people turned again to regard each other. The nature of the gaze that passed between them would have brought Elder Vince's bushy eyebrows into a knot in the center Of his forehead.
"Do you love me to-day, sweetheart?" he whispered.
"Yea," she returned as gently. Her cheeks were crimson. And her eyes were like sun-threaded forest pools in the shadow of her ugly gingham cavern of a bonnet. If Elderess Aurinda could have seen that expression her mouth would have centered in the middle of her face in a pucker too tight for even a whistle. Admonitory remembrance of these mentors evidently troubled the girl, for she scrubbed the toe of her coarse shoe on the withered clover and stammered:—
"You must not keep asking me if I love you."
"I can't help it," he cried.
"But you must not, Brother Paul. I say 'Yea' to you, for it is wicked to lie, but it is also wicked for me to say that I love you."
"But Elder Vance says that we must love one another and love the whole world." There was a little flavor of unctuous pietism in his tones. She looked up at him with a flash of irritation in her eyes.
"It is not well to make pretense in ways that God would not like," she said reprovingly.
"But all the Shakers are taught to love each other and all the world," he persisted. Yet his eyes shifted under her steady gaze. She was calmer than he now.
"I would not be false to the vow of honesty, were I you, Brother Paul," she said with grave reproof. "Our hearts as children were not the same as our hearts to-day. I know my heart and I know what you have told me of your heart. I would like you to be honest. You do not follow our old Sister Rhoda to the well in the evening, and you do not press her hand in the buttery when you bring in the milk. I would not care if you did it to show your brotherly love for old Rhoda, but—" and her voice took on an archness contrasting strangely with her quaint and rigorous garb of Shakerdom—"don't you let me catch you showing your zeal in that way with Sisters Anna and Margaret."
Paul was jarred out of his sophistry.
"Oh, Adalia," he cried, "I am a wretchedly poor Shaker, and I know it. I have tried to obey. I have worked hard ever since I came here as a little boy. They have all been good to me. I have tried to have the right thoughts and lead the right life. But I love you, Adalia, I love you! I never loved any one else, and I never shall love any one else. I'll not blaspheme again. I love you for yourself with the love of the world, and may God help me!"
"If we are honest with God in this we may be able to shake out of our hearts these human feelings," she said but there was a pathetic little quiver in her fresh young lip.
"I don't want to shake mine out of me," he declared rebelliously. "I didn't make a Shaker of myself. My people put me here, who ever they were. It is all right for children to be Shakers and for old folks, too, if they want to be. But I love you, Adalia, and I'm going to take you away from here with me. I am going to be honest with God and with you and the world. Will you go with me?"
"I fear the world," she replied slowly. "I have heard about it. You know the poor women who have come here to us—the stories they have told. I love you, Paul, but on the other hand there is God and His peace here and—"
"You talk like Sister Aurinda," he broke in impatiently. "It's all right for an old and dried up—"
But she lifted her pail and departed indignantly. "You ought to be disciplined," she said over her shoulder; "remember that you are still a Shaker and bound by your vow."
Paul scuffed away heavily behind his harrow and he kicked discontentedly at every earth ball in his path. His peace of mind was further disturbed by Elder Vance. The grim old man stumped across the mottled, broken ground and halted him with a toil-gnarled hand upraised peremptorily.
"I have spoken to you before," said the elder, "regarding your conversations with a sister of the community. There is no profit for the soul in a dialogue with woman. Woman has been prone to talk since the dialogue in the Garden of Eden. And always much mischief has come about from it. I have censured the woman with whom I have seen you talking and now I censure you."
"She was not to blame," burst out Paul hotly. The impatience and disaffection of many weeks: of rigorous suppression in the Shaker community rung in his voice. "I stopped her to talk to her."
"Spiritual matters are better for meditation than for discourse in the working hours," said the Elder, "And of course there can be no other than spiritual matters for discourse between man and woman in this community!"
Conversation was never brisk among the men of the community. Therefore Paul, the only young man in the community, had plenty of opportunity for reflection. And for weeks he had scarcely opened his mouth except to sullenly answer questions. Love had presented itself to him as a problem that his poor and circumscribed wit could not solve. Notwithstanding all the teachings of that Platonic and continent community he loved with every fiber of his being—loved more warmly because of the restraint under which all his emotions had been choked since childhood.
He had never known a mother to love her. He didn't know that his parents lived. Some one had "bound him out" with the Shakers. Now, at twenty-two, he was at best only a farm-hand, certain of course of creature comfort while he remained with the sect, but distrustful of himself and wholly unused to the ways of the world. He knew that he didn't understand even how to make love. Notwithstanding the occasional flashes of tenderness from young Sister Adalia, the end of every conversation was a reproof for him.
The placidity of the old men munching at table irritated him.
"Oh, my God!" he groaned as he went out into the cool evening, "what is going to become of me. Is it this way that folks become lunatics?"
He walked till the clear sheen of Sabbathday Lake was before him. Once two young persons, a Shaker youth and maid of the community, finding that they were in love and, of course, being forbidden to gaze on each other with earthly affection, had jumped into the lake and were drowned. Paul had heard that story many times. The elders told it as a warning. Paul felt, in his present mood, that such an act would be a solution. He numbly wondered if Sister Adalia would not agree to settle their troubles thus. She had told him that loving him had made her unhappy, and that her pillow was wet with tears every night, between love for him and fear of God's mandate to those who served Him according to the Shaker belief.
Paul knew that she soon would be going to the well-house with the butter. He lay in wait in the dark shadows.
"Sister Adalia," he whispered, suddenly standing before her, "will you go with me and jump into Sabba'day Lake?"
"Why, nay," she replied with the sweet calm of Shaker repression.
"I can't live this way any longer," he groaned hoarsely.
"There is a lake of living fire for those who take their own lives," she said.
"I'd sooner be there than in the torment of this world," boring his heel into the sward with a passion almost juvenile.
"I have talked with Sister Aurinda," she said wistfully, "and she has told me that youth needs prayer and discipline and penitential works."
"I'll tell you what we've got to do," he stammered, his voice husky with the violence of his emotions, "we must run away from here and get married and be happy, as the people outside are. The people outside pity us poor fools here."
"Poor fools!" she echoed. "I don't care if I am a fool. God tells us that there are mansions in Heaven for those who are fools on earth for His sake."
"Won't you go with me?" he pleaded.
"How?" she asked.
"As my—my wife." He choked over this word, that to both of them, after their Shaker training, seemed almost like a profanation of their ascetic surroundings. Then he went on in bolder tones. "You can slip out of the women's part and we can meet down the road and go away and be happy."
"Nay," she said gravely. She did not qualify the refusal, and an awkward silence fell.
"I know the trouble with you," he blustered at last. "You know I'm nothing and nobody—only a poor farm-hand. But it hasn't been my fault What could I learn here? Of course, you couldn't expect any woman to go with a farm-hand. But I guess if a rich young chap came along and told you that you were pretty, and all that, you'd forget you are Shaker quick enough."
"Nay," she said quietly. The Shaker precepts that she had heard from childhood made her guard her speech from harsh reply. But the eyes that were turned up to him in the starlight had a fire in them that he had never seen there before.
"You ask me to go forth like a thief in the night from those who have been good to me," she went on. "You have asked me to put a sin on my immortal soul by jumping into Sabba'day Lake with you. When I told you I loved you I was telling you what is so, for I have been taught to tell the truth. I have learned that the women in the world do not own that they love so freely. But I am only a simple Shaker girl, and I do not know the ways of the world and how to evade plain truth, and so I told you when you asked. That has been wicked for us both, that talk. But"—and here the spirit of the woman broke through the crust of sect and religious reserve and threw at him the true rebuke—"the wickedness that is in you it is for God to forgive, after you have made your peace with Him. Between you and me, Brother Paul, there is another matter. It is your cowardice. You have come to me with a coward's words to-night. You have asked me to be a coward with you. I have God and my faith between me and the world now. Would I be wise to exchange those blessed safeguards for a coward?"
"I reckon I am a coward," he said humbly after a long silence. "But what else could I be?" he went on passionately. "Here I am with only two calloused hands and an empty head. Everything in the world that's worth while has been branded 'The works of the Devil,' and kept away from me. The only happiness that ever came into my life is loving you, and that is forbidden more than all the rest. Oh, Adalia, there is something wrong in all this." He shook his fist at the big, bare, community house looming over autumn's tattered maples. "But I will not bother you any more, for I am a coward and helpless. You were right. I will not look at you after this. Some one might see the love in my eyes and tell the Elder. He may kill me if he likes, but I don't want one harsh word to come to you."
"'Tis not well for us to be traitors to God in the dark and evil paths," she said placidly.
She was about to move on but he touched her elbow. "Adalia," he entreated, "I never knew a mother. I never had a sister. I never felt a woman's caress. Our love has all been a dream and now I am going to wake up to the bitter old life again. Will you—will you kiss me once—the first time and the last time? It will be good-by and it will be something for me to cherish forever. Will vou kiss me?"
"Nay," she said, "and I will tell you why. You—"
"What carnal, sinful, hellish talk is this of kisses and loving?" Elder Vance's giant bulk loomed in the starlight. His voice was hoarse with rage. "You to your room, Sister Adalia, and to your knees. And you—" he clinched his hand into the coarse cloth of Paul's work-stained coat, drove him suddenly down upon the gravel, then lifted him and started to drag him toward the men's quarters.
Thus to be humiliated before Adalia—the sense of injustice that had been racing in his heart for many weeks, his love, his grief and his despair—all these feelings became welded in the white heat of his passion into a rage that was almost maniacal. He attacked the Elder furiously and the next moment the two men were rolling on the ground in a desperate encounter. Adalia's shrieks called the help that came.
Bethnial and Japhet came stumbling through the night and, muttering mild protest, awkwardly disentangled the antagonists. At command of the panting Elder, Paul was hustled into the men's quarters and after a struggle was deposited in a room that could be barred and locked.
"Pray to God to quell the devil that is in you," Elder Vance shouted through the keyhole. "And prepare yourself for the discipline that His servants in this community may see fit to visit upon you under His guidance. You are a man of black sin." Then he stumbled down the stairs.
Paul went quietly to the assembly room the next afternoon. It was Sunday. The Elder had asked him through the door in the morning if his spirit was chastened and Paul had replied that he would not rebel against authority any more.
He sat down in his accustomed place on the long settee on the men's side. He lifted his eyes once and bent a glance of mingled shame and timidity on Sister Adalia's face, framed in its ugly straw cylinder of a bonnet. Her face was pale as though the night had been one of vigil and repentance. She did not raise her eyes from the trembling hands that were folded on her lap.
There was the usual Scripture reading. The prayer, deep and sonorous and with many direct allusions to the sin that existed in their midst, followed.
Then at a signal from the Elder the line of men arose and faced the line of women that Elderess Aurinda had motioned to their feet. Brother Paul and Sister Adalia understood the rules of Shaker discipline too well to take their places in the lines. Adalia sat with cheeks whiter still. Paul eyed, with a look of mingled sullenness and shame, the patched knee of his trousers. Adalia had told him one day that she had "set" the patch when the garment had come to the woman's part for repairs. He now caressed the little square with his hand and seemed to gain a bit of comfort from the consciousness that her hands had taken the stitches there. At any rate, he looked up and met the glowering gaze of Elder Vance with a certain amount of assurance that appeared to trouble the worthy elder.
Suddenly the growling diapason of the men and the shrill notes of the women united in the song that the peculiar sect employs in the picturesque ceremony that has given the name "Shakers" to the world.
"Shake away my sin, I pray—make my dance et-arnal;
Shake, shake out of me all that is carnal.
I will trip the nimble foot the same as Father David;
I will show the carnal world how he behaved."
As the unmusical adagio of the tune progressed the lines of men and women shuffled feet slowly and awkwardly and advanced toward each other. They crooked their elbows and held out their forearms, their hands drooping limply from the wrists. As they shuffled with scuffing feet they shook their bodies and the hands dangled flappingly. When the parallel lines had nearly met they retreated as slowly and the simple figure was repeated many times.
In the hush that succeeded the dance Elder Vance arose with a look of solemnity that shadowed the sunlit room as though a thundercap were creeping across the radiance. Sister Adalia knew that he was bending his regard upon her. She flashed one appealing look at him and then bent her head, knitting her fingers convulsively upon the coarse fabric of her gown.
"'It was the woman, O Lord!' said Adam," the Elder began in his deepest tones, "and again it is the woman who has brought into our peace of this earthly Garden of Eden the blandishments of evil and the sting of the serpent of ingratitude. Adalia, stand before the reproachful gaze of these brothers and sisters that their eyes may wither the sin that is in you. Stand, I say."
The girl bowed her head over her hands and sobs shook her.
"Stand, woman of sin," boomed the Elder.
But it was Paul who stood—Paul, so pale that the lines around his mouth were blue, but Paul determined and earnest.
"I am the one to stand, Elder Vance," he began. "I—"
"Sit down!" thundered the old man.
"Sit down! Your time is not yet come."
Another of those swift tumults of rage swept over the young man. Untrained in ways of worldly self-control, he was for the moment insane. Elder Vance saw the gleam in his eye and shrank instinctively. He still felt the bruises of the preceding evening.
"I'll not sit down," screamed the young man. "And she shall not stand here to be blamed and shamed on my account. She shall not, I say."
Japhet and Bethnial and another man rose and gazed inquiringly at the Elder.
The wild excitement of the youth calmed as suddenly as it had been whipped into being. His brandishing fists sunk to his side and he strained his muscles and hunched his shoulders as though in an effort to keep them there.
"Elder Vance," he said, "listen one moment. I have made trouble enough here. I do not want to make any more. I don't belong here any longer. I know it now. I am going away."
"Paul," almost screamed the Elder, "sit down and await your discipline. Or else—"
The apostate put up his hand. "No," he said with a calm that arrested the angry Elder's attention. "No more violence in this place that you have dedicated to God. Do not set those men on me again, Elder Vance. If you let me speak I will speak and go away quietly. But if you or any of your men lay another hand on me I shall forget that this has been my home, and"—he put up his arms—"I shall use the strength that all these years of honest work for you have put into my muscles. Keep away from me. I warn you fairly."
His mien was dangerous. Elder Vance licked his lips with a look of uncertainty in his face.
"I have found," and Paul's gaze met all the stares that were focussed on him, "that I am not one of you. I have tried to be faithful and content and live according to my vow. But a man thinks different things from a boy.
"By staying here I have brought trouble and disgrace to the best and truest there is among you. Elder Vance and Sister Aurinda, this is why I stand here and speak. I have nothing to say for myself. I am wicked and guilty, and don't deserve to stay here. But before I go I want to tell you that Sister Adalia's disgrace is all my fault. I talked with Sister Adalia when I should not. I asked her to run away with me. I told her I loved her. I have been bad—bad—bad! All last night I sat by my window awake and thought of my sin toward her and toward you all. I am sorry for it all, and I ask you to pray for me after I am away. I brought only my two hands here to you. That is all I shall take away. There will be some one in the world who will have a place for them to work as hard and honestly as they have for you here."
He stretched forth his calloused palms.
"Elder Vance, I am now a man, and I have one last word to say to you as a man—as man to man. Out of your own heart—be honest with yourself and God will be honest with you—can you not see that it was I that tempted that poor girl?"
He bent his gaze hot upon the Elder who stammered and shifted his eyes.
"You know it!" Paul shouted. "And as you use her after I am gone, so may God use you in the Day of Judgment. Good-by, Sister Adalia. Every day that I live I shall ask the Lord to bless you and to forgive me for the sin I was guilty of toward you."
He walked to the door, took his broad hat from the wooden peg of the rack, and went out across the yard and through the gate into the dusty highway. No one sought to stay him.
The road turned at the alders and the tall, bleak building of the Shaker community were hidden from sight. A narrow brook bubbled down over a ledge and disappeared in a culvert under the highway. He kneeled here to drink and to lave his face. His throat was dry and his cheeks were hot.
Suddenly a touch on his shoulder startled him to his feet. It was Adalia. Her quick breathing marked the haste with which she had pursued him.
"Paul," she gasped, "where are you going?"
"I am going to work, dear Adalia."
"But where?" she inquired chokingly.
"It was only the other day." he said almost cheerily, "that I heard of a man across Sabba'day Lake who is going away and wants an honest man to keep his farm for him. I will go to him."
"But who will care for the butter and cook your food and keep the house tidy?"
"Perhaps I can manage," he said looking down at the water.
"You need a wife," she after a pause.
"Yea," he admitted, but he still looked down mournfully.
Suddenly she grabbed his shoulder and shook it and cried, "Why so dumb to-day and so eager for a wife last night?"
He looked up at her rosy face with confused inquiry in his eyes.
"There's only one woman in the world, Adalia," he said at last, "who can be my wife and—and you know I am only a poor coward and—"
"Paul, Paul," she cried, the swift tears welling in the brown eyes she lifted appealingly, "that is bitterly cruel."
"But you said so," he persisted.
"That was when you came to me in the shadows of the night and asked we to flee as though marrying and the giving in marriage were sin and shame," she protested rapidly. "But you were not a coward to-day in the meeting, Paul. You were a man. You went forth manfully and with honor and your last words were in the defense of a poor girl who loved you. And I—I came, too." She faltered over the last words
"You!" he echoed with wonderment in his voice.
"I stood up there just as bravely as you and said that where my husband goes there should I go also," she murmured and stole into the arms that were opened uncertainly, gropingly, yet passionately for her. Her swimming eyes gazed adoringly at him from the shadow of the Shaker bonnet.
"May I kiss you?" he stammered.
"Yea," she said. "for you are a man to-day not a thief in the night."
As their lips met Elder Vance hastened about the bend in the road.
"Think you that we shall allow you to go in sin and shame to carnal destruction in the world?" he demanded. "You are not wed. You shall not go away together!"
Paul pointed through the soft shimmer of the autumn sunlight to a little white house on the summit of a distant hill. A spire rose by.
"It will not be much of a wedding to look at, Elder Vance," he said clasping Adalia's hand and turning her face toward the distant house on the hill, "but you are welcome to come and witness it."
And they walked away, Paul and she, through the mellow sunshine, hand in hand.