The Undiscovered Country


EGERIA had not fainted, but she had lapsed into a torpor from which she could not rouse herself. She could not speak or make any sign when her father drew her head away from the young man’s shoulder and laid it on his own. The Shaker chirped his reeking horses into a livelier pace, and when he reached the office in the village he sprang from the wagon with more alertness than could have been imagined of him, and ran in-doors to announce his guests.

Brother Humphrey and the three office sisters,1 very clean and very dry, with the warm smell of a stove fire exhaling from their comfortable garments, received him with countenances in which resignation blended with the natural reluctance of people within to have anything to do with people without, in such weather.

“ Oh, better put them in the tramps’ house,” said Brother Humphrey, — “ there’s a fire there,”

“Yee,” consented one of the sisters, “they will do very well there,”

“ They would slop everything up here,” said another, “ and we’ve just been over our floors, Laban.”

The third was silent, but she wrung her hands in nervous anxiety, like one who would not be selfish, and yet would like whatever advantage may come of selfishness.

“ Nay,” said Laban, “ they ’re not tramps. They ’re the folks that Joseph and Elihu told about meetin’ yesterday. I don’t know as you’d ought to put them with the tramps. I guess the young woman’s in a faint.”

“ Oh, why did n’t you say so, to begin with, Laban ? ” lamented that one of the sisters who had not yet spoken. “ Of course she’s sick, and here we’ve been standin’ and troublin’ about our clean floors, and lettin’ her suffer. I don’t see how I can bear it.”

“ Oh, you ’ll be over it by fall, Frances,” answered Laban, jocosely. Humphrey caught up a cotton umbrella, vast enough for community use, and weatherworn to a Shaker drab, and sallied out to the gate. The doctor and Laban got their benumbed burden from the wagon between them, and carried Egeria into the house, where they were met with remorseful welcome by the sisters. They dispatched Brother Humphrey to kindle a fire in the stove of one of the upper chambers reserved for guests, and into its sweet, fresh cleanliness Frances presently helped Egeria, and then helped her into bed, while the others went to make her a cup of tea.

Her father, meanwhile, had taken off his wet clothes, and arrayed himself in a suit belonging to one of the brethren, a much taller and a thinner man than Boynton, who made a Shaker of novel and striking pattern in his dress. But he beheld his appearance in the glass, which meagrely ministered to the vanity of the office guests, with uncommon content, as a token that he had already entered upon a new and final stage of investigation ; and when his tongue had been loosed by the cup of tea brought to him in the office parlor he regarded his surroundings with as great satisfaction. This room was carpeted, but it was like the rest of the house in its simple white walls and its plain finish of wood painted a warm brown ; there were braided rugs scattered about before the stove and the large chairs, as there were at the foot of the stair-ways, and at the bedsides in the chambers above. Dr. Boynton, stirring his tea, walked out into the low, long hall, bare but not cheerless, and traversed it to look into the room on the other side ; then he returned to the parlor, and glanced at the books and pamphlets on the table, — historical and doctrinal works relating to Shakerism, periodicals devoted to various social and hygienic reforms, and controversial tracts upon points in dispute between the community and the world ; there were several weekly newspapers, and the doctor was turning over one of them with the hand that had momentarily relinquished his teaspoon when Brother Humphrey rejoined him.

“ If we could have at all helped ourselves,” he began promptly, “ I should consider our intrusion upon you most unwarrantable; but we had no will in the matter.”

“ Nay,” replied the Shaker, “ it ’s no intrusion. This is not a family house. We call it the Office, for we do our business and receive friends from the world outside here.”

“ Do you mean that you keep a house of entertainment?”

“ Nay, we would not take in strangers ; but our rule forbids us to turn any one away. Of late years, the wayfaring poor have increased so much that we have appointed a small house especially for them ; but we cannot put everybody there.”

“ I thank you,” said the doctor.

“It is not a hotel,” continued Humphrey, “for we make out no bills. All are welcome to what we can do; those who can pay may pay.”

“ I shall wish to pay, as soon as we can recover our effects,” Boynton interposed.

“ Nay, I did not mean that,” quietly rejoined the Shaker. “You are welcome. whether you pay or not.

The doctor turned from these civilities. “ I am glad to find myself here. I met two of your number yesterday, and had some conversation with them on a subject that vitally interests me,”

“Yee, I heard,” said the Shaker. “You are spiritualists. Are you the medium ? ”

“ My daughter is a medium, — a medium of extraordinary powers, which I dare not say I have developed, but to which I have humbly ministered ; powers that within the last hour have received testimony of the most impressive and final nature.” Brother Humphrey made no outward sign of any inward movement that Boynton’s words might have produced, and the latter suddenly demanded, “Are you a spiritualist? ”

“ Yee,” answered the Shaker, “ we are all spiritualists.”

“Then you will he interested — you will all be interested intensely — in the communication which I shall have to make to your community. I wish you to call a meeting of your principal people ” —

“ Nay,” interrupted the Shaker, “ we are all equal.”

“ Then,” said the doctor, “ of all your people, before whom I desire to lay some facts of the most astounding character, and to whom I wish to propose myself for admission to your community, in order to the pursuance of investigations profoundly interesting to the race.”

He paused, full of repressed excitement; but Brother Humphrey was not moved. “ There will be a family meeting to-morrow night,” he began.

“ To-morrow night! ” cried the doc tor. “ Is it possible that you are so indifferent to phenomena that ought to be instantly telegraphed from Maine to California ? That ” —

“ We have heard a good deal of the doings with the spirits in the world outside,” interrupted the Shaker, in his turn, “ and we know how often folks are deceived in them and in themselves. If something new and important has happened to you, I guess it ’ll keep for twenty-four hours.” Brother Humphrey smiled quaintly, and seemed to expect his guest to take this commonsense view of the matter.

“ Oh, it will keep ! ” exclaimed the doctor. “ But so would the thunder from Sinai have kept ! ” He plunged into a vivid and rapid narration of the events of his captivity and release at the tavern.

When he paused, the Shaker replied with unperturbed calm: “These are things to be judged of by the family. I cannot say anything about them.”

“ Is it possible ? ” demanded Boynton, in a tone of indescribable disappointment. He seemed hurt and puzzled. After a while he said, “ I submit. Could you let me have writing materials to take to my room ? I wish to make some notes.”

“ Yee,” said Humphrey.

Boynton went to his room, which was across a passage-way from that where one of the sisters was still busy with Egeria, and he did not reappear till dinner, which was served him in the basement of the office, in a dining-room made snug with a wood-stove. As Boynton unfolded his napkin, “What are your tenets?” he abruptly demanded of the sister who came to wait upon him.

“ Tenets ? ” faltered Rebecca.

“ Your doctrine, your religious creed.”

“ We have no creed,” replied the sister.

“ Well, then, you have a life. What is your life ? ”

“ We try to live the angelic life,” said Rebecca, with some embarrassment: “ to do as we would be done by ; to return good for evil; to put down selfishness in our hearts.”

“ Good, very good ! There could be no better basis. But as a society, a community, what is your central idea?”

“I don’t know. We neither marry nor give in marriage.”

“ Yes, yes ! That is what I thought. That was my impression. I fully approve of your system. It is the only foundation on which a community can rest. And to keep up your numbers you depend upon converts from the world ? ”

“ Yee.”

“ But you bring up children whom you adopt ? ”


“ Do they remain with you ? ”

“We have better luck with those who are gathered in after middle life. The young folks —we are apt to lose them,” said the Shakeress, a little sadly.

“I see, I see!” returned Boynton. “ You cannot fight nature unassisted by experience. Life must teach them something first. They fall in love with each other ? ”

“ They are apt to get foolish,” the sister assented. “ And then they run off together. That is what hurts us. They no need to. If they would come and tell us ” —

Boynton shook his head. “Impossible! But you have the true principle. Celibacy is the only hope of communism, — of advanced truth.” He ceased to question her as abruptly as he began ; but after he had dispatched his dinner, he asked leave to borrow from the parlor a work on Shakerism which he had noticed there, and he again shut himself up in his room. That night they heard him restlessly walking the floor.

The sister who visited Egeria last at night stood a moment, shading her lamp with her hand and looking down on the girl’s beauty. Her yellow hair strayed loosely out over the pillow; her lips were red and her cheeks flushed. The sister’s tresses had been shorn away as for the grave thirty years before, and her face had that unearthly pallor which the Shaker sisters share with nuns of all orders. She stooped and kissed Egeria’s hot cheek, and then went down to the office sitting-room to report her impressions to the other sisters before they slept.

“ It appears as if her father did n't want to go to bed,” said Sister Diantha, after a moment’s quiet, in which the doctor’s regular tread on the floor overhead made itself audible.

“If he’s got anything on his mind,” said Sister Rebecca, “ it ain’t his daughter.”

“Yee, Rebecca,” said Sister Frances, “ you ’re right, there. I told him I thought she was going to have a fit of sickness, but he said it wa’n’t anything but exhaustion, and 't he ’d see after her ; ’t he was a doctor himself. To my knowledge he hain’t been near her since. I think she’s goin' to have a fit of sickness.”

Brother Humphrey came in from the next room and stood by the stove. “ How did you leave her, Frances ? ” he asked.

“Well, I think she’s goin’ to have a fit of sickness,” repeated Frances.

“ Well, I don’t know’s you’d have much to say ag’in that, would you ? ” returned the brother, after a general pause. “You hain’t had a good fit of sickness on hand for quite a spell.”

The other sisters laughed. “ Set down, Humphrey,” said Diantha, putting him a chair. The manner of these elderly women with Humphrey was of a truly affectionate and sisterly simplicity, to which he responded with brotherly frankness.

I guess she ain’t goin’ to be very sick,” resumed Humphrey, making himself easy in his chair. “ Any way, we ’ve got a doctor to prescribe for her.”

“ What do you think of him, Humphrey ? ” asked Rebecca.

“ Pretty glib,” said Humphrey.

“ I don't know as I ever heard better language,” suggested Frances.

“ Oh, his language is good enough,” said Humphrey.

“ It’s quite a convert Laban’s brought us,” observed Diantha. “ Talk of winter Shakers ! ” she continued, referring to that frequent sort of convert whose Shakerism begins and ends with cold weather. “ I hain’t seen any one so ready to be gathered in for a long time.”

“ Yee, too ready,” said Humphrey, soberly. “That kind ain’t apt to stay gathered in ; and I'm about tired havin’ the family fill mouths for a month or two, and afterwards revilin’s proceed out of ’em.”

“ We must receive all, and try all,” interposed Frances, gently.

“ Yee,” sighed Humphrey.

“What do you say to his story?” asked Diantha.

“ I don’t judge it,” said the brother. “ We know that spirits do communicate with men, and miracles happen every day. As to the doin’s at the Elm Tavern, Harris might tell a different story.”

“I should n’t believe any story Harris told,” said Frances.

Humphrey smiled. “ Well, I don’t know as I should, come to look at it,” he admitted.

“ I wish that nest could be broken up,” said Rebecca. “ It’s a cross.”

“ Yee, it’s a cross,” answered Humphrey. “ I most drove over a man, dead drunk, in the road yesterday, comin’ down into the woods, after I passed the tahvern ; and nearly all the tramps that come now smell of rum. The off’cers don’t seem to do anything.”

“ Oh, the off’cers ! ” cried Diantha.

The walking had continued regularly overhead ; but now, after some hesitation, the steps approached the door, which was heard to open, and they crossed the hall to Egeria’s room. From thence, after a brief interval, they descended the stairs, and Dr. Boynton, lamp in hand, entered the room. The sisters rose in expectation.

“ I find my daughter in a fever,” said Boynton, with an absent air. “ What medicines have you in the house ? ”

“ We have our herbs,” answered Sister Frances.

“ They may be the best thing,” said Boynton, with the same abstraction, as if he were thinking of something else at the same time. He stood and waited amid a general silence, till Sister Frances, who had gone out, reappeared with some neat packages of the medicinal herbs which the Shakers put up. He chose one, and asked for some water in a tin dish in which to steep it on the stove.

“ Let me do it for you,” pleaded Sister Frances. The other sisters joined in an entreaty to be allowed to sit up with the sick girl.

“ No,” said Boynton. “ I have always taken care of her, and to-night at least I will watch with her. I couldn’t sleep if I went to bed, but I shall make myself easy in an arm-chair, if you ’ll give me one.” Humphrey went to fetch the chair, and as he passed the door, on his way up-stairs with it, Boynton called out to him, “Thanks ! If her fever increases,” he continued to the sisters, “ she will wake at eleven, and then I shall give her this. I shall need nothing more. Good-night.”

He went out, and Sister Frances said, with perhaps some sense of penalty in this loss of opportunity for nursing the girl through the night, “ I feel to say that I was hasty in judgin’ on him.”

“ Yee,” said the others. “ We judged him hastily.”

“ We were too swift to blame,” said Humphrey, who now returned. “Let us remember it the next time.”

“ But,” added Sister Frances, “ I knew she was goin’ to have a fit of sickness.”

The sisters took each a hand-lamp of kerosene, and passed up the bare, clean halls to their chambers. The brother went about trying the fastenings of the windows and the locks of the outer doors. The time had been, before the time of tramps, when he never turned a key at night.

In the morning Sister Frances made an early visit to Egeria’s room, and found the girl and her father both awake. She was without fever now, but she lay white and still in her bed, and her father stood looking at her unhopefully.

Sister Frances went down to tho kitchen, where the other sisters were already busy getting Boynton’s breakfast. “ It’s goin’ to be a fit of sickness,” she said.

“ Then she had best go to the sickhouse,” said Diantha.

“ Yee,” added Rebecca, at a look of protest from Frances, “ that’s what it’s for, and she can be better done for there. It ’s noisy here.”

She urged that it was noisy when they spoke, later, of Egeria’s removal to Boynton, who owned that he could not now say she would not be sick : it was the belief of the office sisters that they lived in the midst of excitement.

The day had broken clear, and the New England spring was showing herself in one of her moods of conscientious adherence to duty : she would perform her part with sunshine and birds, but she breathed cold across the brilliant landscape, and she warned vegetation that it started at its own risk. The Shaker village had awakened to its round of labors and self-denials as quietly as if it had not awakened at all. Some of the elderly men, with the boys and the hired hands, were at work with the cattle in the great barns; some were raking together the last year’s decay in the garden into heaps for burning ; some were busy in the workshops. The women went about their wonted cares in-doors, and there was no sign of interest in the arrival of guests at the office. Perhaps their presence had not been generally talked over in the family, but had been held in reserve for formal discussion at the meeting in the evening. The office sisters consulted with the eldress in the family house opposite in reference to Egeria’s removal, and the infirmary was made ready for her. It was aired, the damp was driven out by a hot fire in the stove, and Sister Frances strove to set its order still more in order ; a little fluff under the bed or a spot upon the floor would have been a comfort to her; but everything was blamelessly, hopelessly, neat. It was not quite regular for her to take an interest in things outside of the office, but she had been suffered to do so much in consideration of her affliction at having a fit of sickness snatched from her care, as it were, and she was allowed a controlling voice in deciding upon the doctor’s request to have a bed put up for him in the infirmary. This was hitherto unknown ; it was an invasion of family bounds by the world outside ; but it stood to reason that the girl’s father had a double claim to be as near to her as possible, and his request was, after some conscientious difficulty, granted.

While they were making ready for her, Brother Elihu came to see him at the office, and gave him a sort of conditional welcome. He seemed to be a person of weight in the community, and after his brief visit Boynton perceived that his standing was more strictly probationary than before. There was no want of kindness in Elihu’s manner ; he made several thoughtful suggestions for the welfare and convenience of the Boyntons ; but he had shown no eagerness for the statement which the doctor wished to make to the community, nor for his ideas upon the development of spiritistic science. The statement, he said, could be made that evening, or at the next family meeting ; it did not matter ; there was no haste. “ Spiritualism arose among us; our faith is based upon the fact of an uninterrupted revelation ; the very songs we sing in our meetings were communicated to us, words and music, from the other world. We have seen much perversion of spiritualism in the world outside, — much error, much folly, much filth. If you have new light, it will not suddenly be quenched. Rest here a while. Our first care must be for the young woman.”

“ Yes, yes ! ” assented Boynton, restively.

The office brothers and sisters had listened to Elihu with evident abeyance ; only Sister Frances, by looks and tones, expressed herself unchanged to Boynton. As the time drew on toward evening, and Egeria seemed to need constant watchfulness, she offered to take his place at the infirmary, and to let him know if he was needed at any time during the meeting. This made it easy for him to go, and Sister Frances established herself in attendance upon the sick girl. She was not afterwards dislodged from her place in the infirmary. There were nurses whose duty it was to care for the sick, but Frances clung to her patient, not in defiance, but in a soft, elastic tenderness which served her as well.

Dr. Boynton went to the family meeting, and remained profoundly attentive to the services with which the speaking was preceded. He saw the sisters seated on one side of the large meetingroom, and the brothers on the other, with broad napkins half unfolded across their knees, on which they softly beat time, with rising and falling palms, as they sang. The sisters, young and old, all looked of the same age, with their throats strictly hid by the collars that came to their chins, and their closecropped hair covered by stiff wire-framed caps of white gauze ; there was greater visible disparity among the brothers, but their heads were mostly gray, with a few still dark with youth or middle life; on either side there was a bench full of sedate children.

When the singing was ended, the minister read a chapter of the Bible, and one of the elders prayed. Then a sister began a hymn, in which all the family joined. At its close, a young girl rose and described a vision which she had seen the night before in a dream. When she sat down, the elders and eldresses came out into the vacant space between the rows of men and women, and, forming themselves into an ellipse, waved their hands up and down with a slow, rhythmic motion, and rocked back and forth on their feet. Then the others, who had risen with them, followed in a line round this group, with a quick, springing tread and a like motion of the hands and arms, while they sang together the thrilling march which the others had struck up. They halted at the end of the hymn, and let their arms sink slowly to their sides ; a number of them took the places of those in the midst, and the circling dance was resumed, ceasing, and then beginning again, till all had taken part in both centre and periphery; the lamps quivering on the walls, and the elastic floor, laid like that of a ball-room, responding to the tread of the dancers. When they went back to their seats, one woman remained standing, and began to prophesy in tongues. A solemn silence followed upon her ceasing, and then Brother Elihu rose, and said briefly that a friend from the world outside had a statement to make to the family, in the belief that he had arrived at central truths relating to spiritualism. He claimed to have been operating in a certain direction, with results as striking as they were unexpected. Elihu reminded them that as Shakers they had not been able to maintain a cordial sympathy with spiritualists in the world outside, who had too often abused to love of gain and the gratification of their pride and vanity the principle of spiritual communion originally revealed to Shakers. Yet they could not in reason refuse to hear the statement of this friend, who had, as it were, been providentially cast in their way, and who was apparently not moved by considerations of personal glory and profit, but who, from all he said, had the wish to remand the science into the keeping of Shakers, and to pursue his own investigations under their auspices. Elihu spoke with neatness and point; he added some cautionary phrases against too hasty judgment of the facts about to be offered them, and warned them to beware of self-deception and the illusions arising from love of the marvelous, whether in their own hearts or the hearts of others.

Dr. Boynton could scarcely wait for him to have done. “I thank the brother,” he said, in rising, “ for admonishing us to beware of self-deception; it is an evil which in an inquiry like this would prove fatal, — which does prove fatal wherever it mingles with religious impulse; it poisons, it palsies, religious impulse. I have always guarded against it with anxious care, and, though sometimes abused by the deceit of others, I have at least no cause to accuse myself of want of vigilance concerning my own impressions. I regarded with skeptical scrutiny the first developments of spiritualism. I had been bred in the strictest sect of the Calvinists, from which I had revolted to the opposite extreme of infidelity; I was a materialist, believing in nothing that I could not see, hear, touch, or taste. I rejected the notion of a Supreme Being ; I derided the hypothesis of immortality. The interest which I had taken in mesmerism only intensified my contempt for the whole order of miracles, in all ages. I saw the effect of mind upon mind, of mind upon matter; but I saw that it was always the effect of earthly intellect upon earthly substance. I accounted even for the wonders performed by Christ and the Apostles by mesmerism, acting now upon the subjects of their cures and resuscitations, and now upon the imaginations of the spectators.

“ When the new phenomena were forced upon my attention by their prevalence in so many widely separated places, under so many widely differing conditions, I began to study them as the effect of mind upon inanimate matter. I did not suffer myself to suppose a spiritual origin for these phenomena, for I would not suppose spirits. I imported into this fresh field of research the strict and hard methods with which I had wrought in the old.

“ My wife died during the infancy of the daughter who is here with me now, the involuntary guest of your hospitality, and her death was attended by occurrences of a nature so intangible, so mysterious, so sacred, that I do not know how to shape them in words, but regarding which I may safely appeal to your own spiritual experience. In the moment of her passing I was aware of something, as of an incorporeal presence, a disembodied life, and in that moment I believed ! I accepted the heritage which she had bequeathed me with her breath, and I dedicated the child to the study of truth under the new light I had received.

“ That child has been my mesmeric subject almost from her birth, and all my endeavors have latterly been to her development as a medium of communication with the other world. She was naturally a child of gay and sunny temperament, loving the sports of children, and fond of simple, earthly pleasures. She showed great aptness for study, — she liked hooks and school; and the ordinary observer would have pronounced her a hopeless subject for psychological experiment. But I argued that if spirit was truly immortal it was immutable, and that a nature like hers, warm, happy, and loving, would have the same attraction for persons in one world as in another. The event proved that I was not mistaken ; from the first, disembodied spirits showed a remarkable affinity for hers, and the demonstrations, though inarticulate and indefinite, were of the most unusual order. They frightened and disturbed her, and she did all that she could to escape from them. At different times, indeed, she effectually rebelled against my influence ; and she was abetted in these periods of revolt by those who, after myself, were nearest and dearest to her. But in the end my influence always triumphed, for she loved me with the tender affection which her mother seemed to impart to her with the gift of her own life. I never appealed to this affection in vain, and I have seen her change from a creature of robust, terrestrial tendencies to a being of moods almost as ethereal as those of the spirits with which it has been my struggle to associate her.

“Her health has not always borne the strain well, and but for my own sustaining strength it must have given way completely. The conditions amidst which we lived were all unfavorable. I will not enter upon the long story of my own misfortunes. By the insidious operation of the prevailing bigotry, public confidence in me was undermined ; I lost my practice; I was reduced to dependence upon her kindred, who were the bitterest of my antagonists, and who resisted by every means in their power my purpose of taking her away from them, and attempting her development in other circumstances. But I prevailed, as I always prevailed when I made a final appeal to her affection. We came away, and entered upon the career, distasteful to us both, of public exhibitors. At first we met with great success in the small places which we visited, and I was induced to try our experiment in Boston. Here, too, we made a good impression; but almost at the outset, we encountered an influence, an enmity, embodied in a certain individual, against which we were almost powerless. To this antagonism was added the paralyzing effect of fraud on the part of a medium who assisted at our principal seance.

“ I saw, upon reflection, that we could not hope to succeed in the atmosphere of a mercenary, professional mediumism ; and I determined to retire again to our village, and lay once more, however painfully and slowly, the foundations of our experiment. I dreamed of forming about me a community of kindred spirits, in which our work should be done unhindered by the selfish hope of gain, and I armed myself with patience for years of trial and discouragement.

“ Brother Elihu will tell you how chance brought us together in the depot at Boston, and again at Ayer Junction ; and I will not detain you with the history of the seeming disasters which have ended in our presence among the only people who have conceived of spiritism as a science, and practiced it as a religion. The mistake of a train going southward for a train going northward made us houseless and penniless wanderers last night; the cruel rapacity of a ruffian crowned our sufferings with a triumph surpassing my wildest hopes.”

Dr. Boynton entered upon a circumstantial account of the strange occurrences at the Elm Tavern, and painted every detail with a vividness which had its effect upon his hearers. At the close, one of the sisters struck into a rapturous hymn, in which the others joined. He remained standing while they sang, and when their voices died away he continued in a low and grave tone : —

“What I wish now is simply to be received among you without prejudice, and to be allowed to carry out my plan with the powerful help of your sympathetic and intelligent sphere. I do not ask to be received out of charity : I am a physician, and I offer you my professional services at need ; I have strong arms, and I am willing to work in your shops and your fields. But I feel myself here in presence of the right conditions, and I would make any sacrifice, short of the sacrifice of self-respect, to continue here. I am intensely disappointed that neither my investigations nor my usefulness to you can begin at once. My daughter, as you know, lies sick in your infirmary, and my first, my whole duty is to her. As soon as she is well again, you shall have my labor, and the world shall have my truth.”

He sat down. One of the elders rose, and, coming forward, said, “ The thanks of the family are due to the friend for what he has spoken. The meeting is dismissed.”

The brothers and sisters dispersed to their dwelling-houses, and Boynton walked alone to the infirmary. He found Sister Frances with his daughter, who was wakeful and in a high fever.


Her father watched over Egeria in her sickness with the mechanical skillfulness and the mental abstraction which the office sisters had seen in his treatment of her ease from the first. He was at her bedside night and day while the danger lasted ; he prepared the medicines himself and administered them with his own hand, and he waited their effect from hour to hour, almost from moment to moment, with anxious scrutiny. At the same time a second and more inward self in him remained at immeasurable remoteness. “ I never see such doctorin’ or such nursin’,” said Sister Frances, in her daily report at the office; “but it don’t seem, somehow, as if he did it for her. I should say — and perhaps I should say more ’n I ought if I did say it — ’t he wanted her to get well, but ’t he did n’t want her to get well on her own account; well, not in the first place. And still he ’s just as kind and good! Well, it’s perplexin’.”

“ I can’t see,” said Rebecca, carefully, “as we’ve got any call to judge him, as long as he does his duty by her.”

“That’s just where it is, Rebecca,” answered Frances. “ It does seem as if there was somethin’ better than duty in this world. I d’ know as there is, nor what it is; but it does seem as if there might be.”

Boynton’s efforts were bent not only to Egeria’s escape from danger, but to her immunity from suffering, so far as he could avert it; and to this end he often used his mesmeric power with what appeared good effect. The rending headache yielded to the mystical passes made above her throbbing temples, or over her eyes that trembled with the hot pain; or perhaps it was only the touch of the physician’s wise fingers that soothed them, and brought her the deep, strange sleep. But after the crisis of the fever, and when the convalescence began, the influence, whatever it was, ceased to relieve. It fretted instead of strengthening the girl in her climb up toward health, as her father was quick to perceive. He desisted, and he did not talk with her of the schemes and hopes that preoccupied him. He scarcely talked of them at all, though now and then, when he met Elihu, it was clear that he had not relinquished them in the slightest measure. The Shaker wondered at the self-control with which he cast them into such complete abeyance, and could not forbear suggesting at one of their encounters, “ Your daughter’s sickness is quite a little cross to your patience, Friend Boynton.”

“ Yes, yes,” returned the doctor, intensely ; “ but it is not the first time I have had to use patience. The end is worth waiting for, and, as you said when we first talked of it, the end can wait for us; the truth will keep. I am sure of the result. But nothing can be done till she is perfectly well again.”

“ Yee,” said Elihu ; “ the young woman’s welfare is more precious than any proof she could give us of the existence of spirits. We know that they exist already.”

The doctor stared at him, astonished, but finally said nothing. They did not speak of Boynton’s union with the family ; that question shared the suspense in which the great problem, to the solution of which Shakerism had been only a moans in his mind, was left. But be had taken his place in the community like one of them. There were reasons in the condition of the only suit of clothing which he brought from the world outside why he should continue to dress in the Shaker garb; but it is probable that he would have preferred to wear it, even if the skill of the family tailoress could have rehabilitated the wreck of his secular raiment; and he was faithful in his attendance at all the religious meetings, both those held in the family-house and those opened to the public, with the advancing spring, in the meeting-house. He did not take an active part in the worship. Once, when asked to speak, he said briefly that for the present he had nothing to add to his first statement; and during the marching and singing he sat quietly in a corner, opposite a sister on the women’s side, whose extreme stoutness had long excused her from dancing before the Lord. In the mean time he had treated several slight cases of sickness which occurred in the family; and he had drawn all the teeth in the head of a young sister much tormented with toothache, and long emulous of the immunity enjoyed by most of the other sisters through their full sets of artificial teeth. He had also, in his moments of disoccupation, and during his watches beside Egeria, made a profound study of the history and doctrine of Shakerism ; and he grew into general liking with the family at large, whose knowledge of his devotion to his daughter did not search motive so jealously or fantastically as that of Sister Frances, and who thought him a marvel of vigilance and skill.

April had passed, and May had worn away to its last weeks before the girl could sit up in an easy-chair, and with pillowed head look out on the landscape. Sometimes, after the favorable change in her fever began, she had asked, in the mellowing afternoons, to have her window opened to let in the rich, pungent odors of the burning refuse of the gardens, — the last year’s withered vines and stalks which the boys had raked into large piles, and fired in the field below the infirmary. She could hear, from where she lay, the snap and crackle of the flames ; and once, when Sister Frances returned after a moment in which she had left the sick girl alone, she found that Egeria had dragged herself across the bed to where she could see the fire, upon which she was gloating with rapture. Frances spoke to her; she replaced her pillow, and after a long look at the Shakeress she broke into tears. The watchers with her in these early days of her convalescence always found her awake at dawn, when the robins and orioles and sparrows were weaving that fabric of song which seems to rise everywhere from the earth to the low-hovering heaven.

“ It’s like the singin’ of spirits, ain’t it ? ” said one of the sisters who saw the transport with which she silently listened, her large eyes wide and her lips open.

“ No ! ” cried the girl, almost fiercely. “It’s like the singing of the birds at home.”

“ Seemed as if she hated the spirits, as you might say,” the Shakeress commented to the office sisters. It was the first time that any of them had heard Egeria mention her former home, for even in the fever her ravings had been of experiences in Boston, unintelligible to them. But they had all noted the passion with which, when her recovery began, she turned to the natural world. She asked for the wild flowers, and day by day demanded if it were not yet time for the anemones, the columbines, the dog-tooth violets. If the spring lingered, or at times turned backward, nothing could rouse her from the dejection into which she fell, till the sun began to shine and the birds began to sing again. It was felt in the family to be foolish, or worse, but none of the Shakers could come home through field or wood without staying to pluck some token of the season’s advance for the sick girl, who was longing so restlessly to go out and find the summer for herself. Her bed was decked with boughs of wilding bloom; on the shelves and window-sills the sylvan and campestral flowers gave their delicate colors and faint fragrances in whatever prim jug or sober vase the community could spare from its service. Something, surely, must be wrong about all this ministering to a love that might be said to savor of earthly vanities, but the most anxious of the nun-like sisters could not determine upon the sin ; and while they wondered in just what sort they should deal with the elusive evil, a visiting brother from another community arrived to pronounce it no evil, but an instinct, wholesome as the harmless things themselves. Upon this, one of them brought and laid at Egeria’s bedside a rug which she had worked with the pattern of a grape-vine, and which for five years she had kept fearfully hidden away in her closet, from compunction for its likeness to a graven image.

Egeria first went out on the 20th of May, that signal date when the spring, whatever her previous reluctances, brings up all arrears with the apple-blossoms. The season is then no longer late or early, but is the consummate spring; and all weather-wise hopes and fears are lost in the richness with which she keeps the promise of her name. It might well have seemed to the girl’s impatience as she watched the orchard trees, sometimes from her closed window and sometimes from her open door, as the day was chill or soft, that the blossoms would never come ; and even when every tip of the mossed and twisted boughs was lit with the pink glimmer of a bud, and the trees’ whole round was suffused with a tender flush of color, that the delicate petals of rose and snow would never unfold. The orioles and the bobolinks sang from the airy tops, and from the clover in the grassy alleys between the trees; in a neighboring field the oats were already high enough to brighten and darken in the wind. The canes of the blackberries and raspberries in the garden were tufted with dark green, and beyond the broad leaves of the pie-plant and the neat lines of sprouting peas, the grape-vines on Elder Joseph’s trellis, were set thick with short, velvety leaves of pinkisholive, when suddenly, in a warm night, the delaying buds unfolded, and in the morning the apple-blossoms had come.

“ I am going out under them,” the girl said, when she saw them, and she set a resolute face against the fond anxieties of Sister Frances. Her father came and approved her wish.

“It won’t hurt her; it will do her good,” he said, with that somewhat propitiatory acquiescence with which he now indulged his daughter’s whims. So, when the morning was well warmed through, as Sister Frances said, they spread some sad-colored wraps on the grass in the orchard, where the mingled wind and sun could reach her through the screen of blossoms. She walked a little tremulously, clinging to her father’s arm, but a light of perfect happiness played over her faintly flushing face as she sank upon the couch. From where she lounged, she could look across the gardened intervale, declining from the street on which the hamlet was built, to the elms and sycamores that fringed the river-course, and beyond to other uplands, where the gray farmsteads dimly showed among the fields, and the white houses of villages clustered and sparkled in the sun. An unspeakable serenity filled the scene; and round her the little Shaker town was a part of the wide peace. There was seldom a passer on the sandy thoroughfare, now printed with the delicate shadows of the new maple leaves, and the stillness was unbroken by any sound of human life. The Shakers and their hired men were at work in the gardens and the fields, but they worked quietly ; and the shops in which there was once the clinking of hammers on lap-stone and anvil had been hushed long ago by the cheaper industries of the world outside.

At the doors of the great family houses of brick, a Shaker sister in strict drab and deep bonnet from time to time issued or entered silently. Nothing but the cat-bird twanging in the elder-bushes, and the bobolinks climbing in the sunlit air, to reel and slide down, gurgling and laughing, to the clover tufts from which they rose, broke upon the mellow diapason of the bees in the apple-blossoms overhead. Where she lay, propped on her arm, with her father seated beside her, some of the brothers and sisters came out of their way from time to time, to welcome her out-doors, and to warn her not to stay too long. Some rumor of her longing to be in the weather, and of her passion for the blossoms and the birds amongst which she was blessed at last, had penetrated the whole community, and many who did not come to speak to her looked out unseen from their windows upon her happiness, which they might have found somewhat too earthly, in spite of the ideas lately promulgated by the visiting brother. With her blue eyes dreamily untroubled, she looked like some sylvan creature, a part of the young terrestrial life that shone and sang and bloomed around her ; while flashes of light and color momently repaired the waste that sickness had made in her beauty. A sense of her exquisite harmony with the great natural frame of things may have penetrated the well-defended consciousness of Elder Joseph, as he paused near her, on his way home to dinner ; but if it did, it failed to grieve him. He looked indulgently down at her; by an obscure impulse he gathered some of the richest sprays from the branches at hand, and dropped them into her lap.

“ It seems right,” he said, “ to be getting well in the spring, when everything is taking a fresh start. I like to see the young woman looking so happy.”

He addressed the doctor as well as Egeria, but it was she who answered.

“ Yes ; it would n’t seem the same thing if it were fall. If it had been fall, I should not have got well ; I should not have cared to get well.”

“Nay,” replied the Shaker; “if it is for us to choose, we are to choose to get well at all times.”

“ I mean,” said the girl, “ that I could not have chosen.”

“You can’t tell,” observed her father. “ Most fevers are autumnal, and convalescents are braced up by the approach of cold weather.”

“ Yes,” she rejoined, “ but now I seem to be stronger because my getting well is part of the spring.”

“ Our sympathetic relations with nature are subtle and strong,” consented Boynton. “ No one can tell just how much influence they have over our physical condition.”

Egeria silently gazed upon the prospect. “It’s sightly, isn’t it?” asked the Shaker. “I have looked at it, now, for fifty spring-times, and it is as pretty as when it was first revealed to me.”

Boynton started, and repeated, “ Revealed ? ”

“ Oh, yee,” returned the elder, “ I first saw this place in a vision. It was when I was a young man, and several years before I was gathered in from the world outside. When I came here, I remembered the place and the persons I had seen in my vision, and I knew them all. Then I knew that it was meant, and I stayed.”

“ Is it possible ! ” cried Dr. Boynton. “ That was very extraordinary. Have you had other psychological experiences ? ”

“ Nay,” said Brother Joseph, briefly.

“But they are common among you ? ” pursued Dr. Boynton.

“ Oh, yee, we have all had some such intimations. Have you never read Elder Evans’s account of his dealings with the supernatural ? ”

“ No, never ! ” cried Boynton, with intensifying interest.

“ I will lend you the book. He tells some strange things. But we do not follow up such experiences. They serve their purpose, and that is enough. We try to live the angelic life. That will bring what is good in the supernatural to us, and we need not go to it.”

“ I think you make a mistake ! ” said Boynton promptly. “ These intimations are given expressly to invite pursuit. That is what miracles are for.”

“ Nay,” returned the Shaker. “ They are no miracles, if you follow them up to see them a second time. We must beware how we make the supernatural a commonplace. None of the disciples knew exactly who Christ was till he was taken from them ; and he has only appeared since to one Doubter out of all the millions that have longed to believe on him. There is something ia that. The other world cannot come twice to prove itself. Once is enough in miracles.”

“ Then you disapprove of spiritistic research ?” demanded Boynton. “You condemn the desire to develop the dim hints of immortality which we all think we have received into certain and absolute demonstration ? ”

“Nay, I do not condemn any earnest striving for the truth, under proper conditions.”

“ I hope to find those conditions among you,” Boynton hastened to say.

“ We shall he happy to afford them,” said the Shaker smoothly, “if we can agree upon what they are. But it is right to say that we consider Shakerism the end and not the means of spiritualism.” He passed on down the orchard aisle, the sunlight falling upon his quaint figure through the apple-blossoms.

The doctor’s eyes followed him, but it was some time before he spoke. “ After all,” he said, as if musing aloud, “ he is not one of the controlling forces of the community.” He spoke with a certain effect of arming himself against opposition. “You had better come in, now, Egeria. It won’t do for you to take cold.”

“ Yes, pretty soon. I don’t wonder that they think they ’re living the angelic life.”

“ Why ? ” asked her father sharply.

“ It’s like a heaven upon earth, here.”

This vexed her father. “ Yes, like heaven now, with the apples in bloom and the birds singing. But how much like heaven would it be with three feet of snow where you are lying?”

“ Well, let us go in. I had better not stay too long.” She rose as if saddened by his words, and suffered herself to be helped back to the infirmary.

“ The Swedenborgians,” said her father, in reparation, “ believe that in the other world winter is absorbed into the other seasons, and that the whole year is a sort of spring-time.”

“ Ah ! ” breathed the girl. “ But I did n’t mean spring. I should want the whole year to be summer, and I should want it to be in this world. I should like a heaven upon earth.”

Her father looked closely at her. “ This materialistic tendency is a trait of your convalescence. People are never so earthly as when they are recovering from a dangerous sickness. There is a kind of revolt from the world whose borders they have touched, — a rebound. The senses are riotous to try their strength again.” He said these things as if accounting to himself for a fact, rather than explaining her condition to Egeria.

“Well, we have aright to our life here ! ” she cried, passionately. “ Let the other world keep to itself ! ”

He did not answer her directly, and at other times he avoided encounter with anything like opposition in her. She would not stay in-doors after she once liberated herself. The spring came on rapidly and brought the hot weather before its time ; but she throve in the heat. Before she was strong enough to walk much, the Shakers appointed for her use an open buggy, garrulous and plaintive with age, and an old horse past his usefulness at the plow, but very fit for lounging along by-roads, and skilled in cropping wayside foliage as he went. With her father beside her in his Shaker dress, while she wore a worldlier garb, which she had beguiled her convalescence in fashioning from materials supplied by the family dress - maker, the equipage took the passers on the quiet roads with question and wonder. But they met few people, for they drove mostly over the grass-grown lanes that entered the forest, and the track oftener died away in the thickening vegetation than led any whither. Sometimes it arrived at a clearing deep in the woods, and accounted for itself as the way over which the teams had hauled wood in the winter, or got out logs. In other places it was a fading reminiscence of former population, and led through the trees and thick undergrowth to the site of a vanished dwelling; a few apple-trees emerged from the ranks of their sylvan brethren; a rose or currant bush stood revealed among the blueberries or the sweet-fern ; then the dull rod and white of ruined masonry showed in the grass, and suddenly a cellar yawned before their feet, or they stepped over a wellcurb choked with stones. Now and then they met lurking and evasive people on the lonesome roads, who were sometimes black, and who seldom seemed part of the ordinary New England life. If they followed up the track on which these men had shambled towards them, they might come upon a poverty-stricken dwelling of unpainted wood, which seemed never to have had heart to be a home. If they spoke to the slattern woman in the doorway, she was nasal enough, but otherwise the effect was as if some family of poor whites from the South had been dropped down in those Northern woods, with all its native environment of lounging dogs, halfstarved colts, and frightened poultry.

Boynton philosophized the strange conditions as well as he could in the absence of any but obvious facts concerning them. When he stopped for a dipper of water at the well, from which he drew it with the old-fashioned sweep, and fell into talk with the women, they were voluble, but not very intelligible. They commonly took him for a Shaker, but Egeria gave them pause in their conjectures ; and when he explained that he and his daughter were merely staying with the Shakers they said, Well, the Shakers were good folks, any way. There was sickness in some of these forlorn places, and once it happened to the doctor to be able to afford relief in the case of a suffering child. He was very tender with it, and gentle with the parents, who looked as if they would still be young if they had any encouragement, and on a second visit they asked him what he charged. When he said, “ Nothing,” they followed him and Egeria out to their buggy in a sort of helpless gratitude.

“ Well, you ’ve done our little girl good, doctor,” the woman said on the doorstep, “ and we sha’n’t forget it. The trouble is we don’t seem to get no ways forehanded.”

Boynton looked about him, as he took the reins in his hand, upon two or three other weather-beaten houses. “What place is this ? ” he asked.

“ Well,” said the woman, with sober apology, while her man grinned, “ I d’ know’s you may say it has any name. Skunk’s Misery, they call it.” She showed her sense of degradation in the brutal grotesquely. “Well, call again,” she said, as the doctor lifted his reins and chirruped to the old horse. “ And you, too, lady,” she added, nodding to Egeria.

“ She kept her house in good order, for such a poor place,” said the girl, when they had been watched out of sight by the man and his wife, “ and the little girl’s bed was sweet and clean. I should think they might be happy, there.”

“ In Skunk’s Misery ? ” asked her father.

“If the house is their own,” answered Egeria simply. “ They seemed good to each other.”

“ Oh, you will change your mind when you ’re quite well again. You will want to see more of the world.”

“ I wish we had a house of our own, somewhere,” said Egeria. “ I should n’t care where. I was thinking of that. I should like to keep house. I am going to get Frances to teach me everything.”

“ That will all come in good time,” answered her father soothingly. “ And it will come with higher things. Only now get well.”

“What higher things?” demanded the girl.

Boynton looked at her, and answered evasively, “ Things we could n’t very well find in Skunk’s Misery. Perhaps we shall go abroad. Would you like to go to Europe ? ”

“ I would rather go home.”

Boynton frowned, but did not answer ; and they had escaped encounter for that time, at least.

As Egeria grew stronger they gave up their drives somewhat, and took walks in the nearer woods. Oftenest their errand was to gather laurel, which was now coming richly into bloom. It filled the open spaces of the small clearings and wherever the woods were thin ; it hid the stumps and consoled the poor, sterile soil with the starry profusion of its flower. One afternoon, when they had climbed to the hill-top where the Shakers of earlier times lay in their nameless graves, they looked out over the masses of the laurel, and it was like a second blossoming of the orchards. Egeria sat down on one of the fallen stones, without knowing that it covered a grave, and began putting her boughs of laurel into shape, choosing this and rejecting that, while her father went about among the forgetful tombs.

“ I am glad we came here,” he said, returning to her, “ for I should not have liked to miss seeing their grave-yard.”

“ Their grave-yard ? ” she repeated.

“Yes; this is the old Shaker burialground.”

She looked round. “ I did n’t know it,” and added, like one following out some tacit thought, “ Well, what difference would it make if they had put their names on ? They rest as well without it. And if they had put their names, who could remember who they were in fifty years from now ? ”

“ They know one another in the other world just as well, without the record here,” consented her father. “ And it is n’t here that we are to be remembered, at any rate.”

“ I wish it were! ” said the girl, with passion, dropping her flowers into her lap. “ I like this world, and I like to be in it. I wish we did n’t have to die.”

“ Death is the condition of our advancement,” said her father.

“ But I would rather not advance,” said Egeria. “ I almost wish I had been born an animal. I should have had to die, but I should not have known it, and there would have been nothing of me to come back! ” She went on putting together her boughs of laurel, and she wore that look of being remote within her defenses which a woman knows how to assume no less with her father than with her lover. She then adventurously throws out thoughts and opinions, as if they had just casually occurred to her, which she has perhaps reached after long secret cogitation or sensation, or which are perhaps really what they seem.

“ Why should n’t you wish to come back, ages hence, and see what advance the world has made ? ” rejoined her father, after a pause.

“ I should be afraid that I had n’t kept up with it,” answered Egeria.

“ The spirits that come back say such silly things.”

“ That is a childish way of looking at it,” said her father with severity. “ We have no more right to accuse them of silliness than we have to laugh at the foreigner who can express only the simplest things in English. The medium of thought must be so different in the two conditions of being that the wonder is that returning spirits can understand and use our dialects at all.”

“ I don’t see why they should forget their own language, if they ’re the same persons there that they were here,” Egeria returned, stubbornly. “ Yes,” she cried, “ I would rather be here under the ground forever than be like some of the sphits ! Oh, I should like to live always, too; but I don’t call that living. I should like to live here in this world, — on the earth.”

“ Would you like to live always among the Shakers? ” asked her father, willing to turn the current of her thoughts.

“ They try all the time to make the other world of this world ! ”

“ Perhaps that’s the only condition on which they find happiness in this world.”

“ Perhaps, But I don’t believe so. We were not born into the other world. The Shakers are very good, and they have been kind to us. Yes, I could be contented among them. Are you going to stay with them, father ? ”

“ I don’t know,” replied Boynton. “ The time has n’t come to decide, yet. I have been waiting. There is no hurry. I don’t feel that we are here on charity, quite. I am able to render some equivalent.”

“ Yes,” said Egeria, “ and I am going to work as soon as they will let me. I know they would like to have us stay and join them.”

“That was originally my idea. I still propose to do so, if I find them useful. Everything depends ” — He stopped uneasily, and glanced at Egeria, but she showed no uneasiness.


While their place in the community was thus indefinite, they dwelt with the brothers and sisters who had first received them in the office. Egeria helped the sisters in their work there, and they all liked to have her about them, though it was tacitly agreed that she belonged chiefly to Sister Frances, with whom she served, making the beds, wiping the dishes, and putting the rooms in order, while Diantha and Rebecca devoted themselves to the more public duties of the place. As she grew stronger she would not be kept from taking her share in the family work. Frances forbade her helping in the laundry, where one of the brothers, vague through wreaths of steam from the deep boilers, presided over a company of sisters and boys, and afterwards marshaled them in hanging out the community wash ; this, she held, involved dangers of rheumatism and relapse ; but she allowed her to find a place in the herb-house, where a score of the young Shakeresses, seated on the floor of the wide, low room, before fragrant heaps of catnip, boneset, and lobelia, sorted and cleaned these simples for the brothers in the packing-room below. “ That is sort of being out-doors,” said Sister Frances, with a sly allusion to the girl’s well-known passion. Indeed, Egeria’s chief usefulness appeared when the first wild berries came. Her father no longer accompanied her, for he found the heat too great a burden. The women went, five or six in a wagon, with one of the brothers, who drove, to the berry pasture a mile or two away, and they sang their shrill hymns while passing through the pine woods, that gave out a balsamic sweetness in the sun. At the verge of a westward-sloping valley was a stretch of many hundred acres, swept by a forest fire a few years before, and now rank with the vegetation which the havoc had enriched. Blueberries and huckleberries, raspberries and blackberries, battened upon the ashes of the pine and oak and chestnut, and flourished round the charred stumps ; the strawberry matted the blackened ground, and ran to the border of the woods where, among the thin grass, it lifted its fruit on taller stems, and swung its clusters in the airs that drew through the alleys of the forest. Here and there were the shanties of Canadian wood-cutters, whom the Shakers had sent to save what fuel they might from the general loss, and whom, at noonday, the pickers came upon, as they sat in pairs at their doors, with a can of milk between them, dusky, furtive, and intent as animals. From the first of the strawberries to the last of the blackberries, the birds and chipmucks feasted, and only stirred in short flights when the young Shakeresses, shy as themselves, invaded their banquet.

“ Why, Egery,” said one of them, the first day, “ you empty your basket faster than any of us, and you said you never picked before. How do you always find such full vines ? I do believe it’s because they know you love to pick ’em so, and they just give you a little wink.”

“Yes,” she answered absently, like one entranced by the rich influences of the time and scene. She drank of the strong vitality of the earth and air and sun, and day by day the potion showed its effect in the serenity of her established health.

“Oh, nothing in the weather hurts her,” said the girl who had surprised her secret understanding with the berries. “ She keeps on with the birds and squirrels when the heat drives us off, and if it comes on to rain it runs off her as if she was a chipmuck or a robin ; and next morning, when I 'm as full of aches and pains as I can hold, she’s all ready to begin again.”

“ Yee, that’s so, Elizabeth,” said the others, who laughed at this.

In their way they mingled what jollity they could in their work, and were sometimes demurely freakish in the depths of their poke-bonnets and under the wide brims of their hats. Certain of the elder brethren and sisters had their repute for humor, and made their quaint jokes without a bad conscience ; while the younger played little pranks upon one another, with those gigglings and thrusts and pushes which accompany the expression of rustic drollery, and were not severely rebuked. Egeria did not take part in their jocularities; but it was another joke of the young Shakers and Shakeresses, kept children beyond their time and apt to allege children’s excuses when called to account, to say, “ She made us do it — she looked so! ”

They all liked her, and in spite of the secular fashion of her dress, to which she still clung, they treated her as if she were one of themselves, and were always to stay with them. Whatever may have been in their hearts, nothing in their manner betrayed surprise at the complete abeyance into which her supposed supernatural gifts had fallen. Perhaps, as people used to supernaturalism, to the caprice with which the other world uses this, they could be surprised at no lapse or access of divination, in any given case. At any rate, they all seemed content with her robust return to life and health, and if they were impatient for proof of the great things that her father had claimed for her, none of them showed impatience.

There were certain other faculties as dormant in her as her psychological powers. Once, as she passed through the pine woods where Laban had first found her and her father, he leaned across Sister Frances, who sat between them on the wagon-seat, and asked, “ Do you know this road ” And when they came to that knoll beside the brook he asked again, “ Do you mind this place ? ” He laughed when she said no. “ Well, I don’t much wonder. You did n’t seem to be quite in your right senses. This is the place where I come across you and your father that day. ”

At another time, when a different course brought them home by the Elm Tavern she dimly recalled the aspect of the house and asked what it was. “ It seems as if I had seen it in a dream,” she said.

“ Must ha’ had the nightmare pretty bad,” returned Laban. “It’s a dreadful place.”

“ Dreadful,” repeated Sister Frances. “But it’s just so when you’re comin’ down with a fit of sickness, especially fevers. Everything seems in a dream, like.”

Sister Frances rejoiced like a mother in the girl’s health, which came back to her in no ethereal quality, but in solid evidence, in color and in elasticity of step and touch. She had known her before the fever only in that brief interval in which all her faculties were invested by the disease ; and both the spiritual and material change wrought in her by convalescence might well have appeared greater than they were. She had seen her lie down a frail and fearful girl, deeply shadowed, as she fancied, by the memories of a troubled past; and she had seen her rise up and grow, in sympathy with the reviving year, into a broad, tranquil summer of womanly ripeness and strength, unvexed by any remembered pain. To the homely mind of Sister Frances she was like the young maple which Brother Joseph had found in a sombre thicket of the woods, and had set out in the abundant sunshine of the village street before the office gate, where it had thriven in a single year out of all likeness to itself. She admired this tree, and in telling Egeria of her fancy she gave her a pin-cushion she had shaped in its image on the stem of a broken kerosene lamp : it was faithful, even to the emery bag in a red peak, like the first color which the maple showed at top in the autumn.

When the garden berries began to ripen, the two often talked long together as they sat in the cool basement of the office, sorting them with Shaker conscientiousness, and packing for market only boxes of honest fruit. Then the elder woman tried with maternal tenderness to draw nearer the life of this daughter of her care, in the fond hope that she might always keep her, and not lose her again to the world from which she had wandered.

“ You seem happy here, Egeria,” she would say, timorously feeling her way toward what had already been talked of in the family ; and then, when the girl answered that she had never been so happy before, the sister’s conscience gave her a check. It did not seem right to take advantage of Egeria’s happiness among them to urge her to any step to which she was not moved by conviction. “ You know,” she resumed, “ that we wouldn’t like anything better than to have you stay among us, — you and your father both. All the family’s agreed about that. But it is n’t for us to prevail without you feel a call to our life. What does your father say ? ”

“ We have never talked much about it,” said Egeria. “ May be he is waiting for me to get well before he makes up his mind.”

“ Why, you look a great deal better than he does, now! ” cried Sister Frances, bluntly. “ I want you should both stay with us till he gets strong again. I don’t think your father’s over and above strong when he’s well.”

“Well?” echoed the girl. “Don’t you think he’s well ? ”

“ Yee,” answered Sister Frances, “ but nervous, worried, like. I suppose he has n’t had a chance yet to wear off the excitement of the world outside. You know you’ve had a good fit of sickness. We all say that whatever happened before you came here, it’s dropped from you like a garment,”

“ Yes, like a garment,” responded Egeria, vaguely, letting her busy hands fall into her lap.

Frances took her by the arm. “ Don’t you go and be anxious, now, at what I said about your father.”

“ Oh, no ! ” said Egeria, recalling herself, and settling to work again.

“ He’s as well as anybody need be. Only you ’re so very well that anybody, to see you, would suppose you were the well one.”

“I was wondering,” mused the girl aloud, “if he had anything to perplex him. Sister Frances,” she asked presently, “ did any letter come for me while I was sick ? ”

“ Nay. Did you expect a letter ? ”

“ No,” said Egeria, “ there could n’t have been any answer.” She suddenly blushed, and then fell into a reverie so profound that Frances, working alone at the berries, knew not how to bring back the talk to the point from which it had strayed. She was not a person of much native tact, and the community life did not cherish tact among the virtues, counting truth much better; but now Sister Frances attempted a strategic approach.

“ Sometimes,” she said, “ the young people who are gathered in have hopes in the world outside that make it hard for them to conform to the true life. And we women, we all know what such hopes are. I was young, and the world looked very bright to me when I was gathered in.”

“ You, Sister Frances ? You gathered in ? I thought you were brought up in the family from a child.”

“ Nay, I was gathered in — when I was twenty.”

“ When you were twenty ? And I am nineteen.”

“ I came to the neighborhood on a visit, and one Sunday I went to Shaker meeting, and I heard something said that made me think it was the true life. I used to be troubled about religion ; but I ’ve had peace for many years. At first it was considerable of a cross, wondering whether I’d acted for the best. He’d never said anything to me, and I d’ know as he ever would. But he might have. That was what kept preying on my mind, whenever I got lonesome or doubtful about my choice. But I was helped to put it away. He ’s been here, since — with her. That was the most of a cross, of anything. At first, he did n’t know me, so I don’t suppose he ever did care, much.”

“ Had you ever,” said Egeria, in a sort of scare, “ done anything that could have made him think you cared ? ”

“ Nay. I was too proud for that.”

“ But even if you had done such a thing—by a mistake, or by doing something you thought was right, and then you had been afraid he might take it differently — you would have felt safe here.”

“ Yee, I should have felt safe.” Frances waited for Egeria to speak, but the girl was again silent. “ I did hope,” resumed the sister, “ in those young and foolish days, that he might be gathered in, too. Then we could lived in sight of each other. But it wa’n’t to be, and I don’t know as’t would been for the best. Any rate, he got married. I ’ve heard they live out in Illinoy, and’t he’s made out real well. And I’m at rest, here.”

“ Sister Frances,” said Egeria, “do you think my father looks sick ? ”

“ Well, I declare, if you ain’t thinkin’ of that silly talk of mine, yet! Anybody ’d look sick alongside of you. I only meant that he was a little more peaked.”

“ Yes,” responded the girl with a sigh, “he does n’t look well.”

She watched him at dinner, that day, and saw that he had a small and fastidious appetite, though the early abundance of a Shaker garden was there to tempt him. “ Are you feeling well, father ? ” she asked, when they went out after tea for a little stroll. “ You ate hardly anything at dinner, and this evening you did n’t touch your tea.”

“ Yes,” he answered quickly, with a touch of irritation, “ I am well ; very well; perfectly well. But the hot weather is trying, and — and ” —

“ And what? ” coaxed the girl. “ Have you been thinking about something that worries you ? Is there anything on your mind? ”

“ No, no. Nothing. Have you ever noticed it before ? What has made you notice it ? ”

“ I don’t know. Sister Frances said she thought you did n’t look as well as I do. That seemed strange.”

“ You are looking very well, Egeria. I am glad to see you looking so well. This fund of physical strength ought to contribute— There is nothing that is necessarily alien in it to — I am truly glad for your sake, my dear, that you are so well.”

They were walking down the sloping roadside from the office gate toward the clump of old willows in whose midst stood the spacious stone bowl, scooped out of the solid granite by some forgotten brother in former years, and now tenderly, darkly green, inside and out, with a tint of cool mold. When they reached the bank beside the trough, he dropped wearily on the grass, but she remained standing, with her arms sunken before her and her fingers intertwined, watching the soft ebullition of the spring in the centre of the bowl. She had either not been aware of his approach to the matter of their tacit avoidance, or she was indifferent to it. A smile played upon her face as the bubble continually rounded itself without breaking upon the surface of the water; and in the mellow light of the waning day she looked strong and very beautiful. Her hair was darker than before her fever; her eyes had lost their look of vigilance and apprehension, and softly burned in their gaze ; the sun and wind had enriched her fair Northern complexion with a tinge of the South. An artist or a poet of those who dream backward from fable might have figured her in his fancy as the Young Ceres : she looked so sweet and pure an essence of the harvest landscape, so earthly fair and good.

Her father glanced at her uneasily. “ I don’t like my environment, here,” he broke out on a sudden. “ I am conscious of adverse influences.”

She slowly lifted her eyes from the fountain, and looked at him with gravely smiling question, as if she had not quite understood.

“ You asked me just now,” he resumed, “ whether I had been thinking about any vexatious matter. Have you seen nothing here of late to vex me?”

“No,” she answered, with the same question, but without the smile.

“Nothing in the attitude of these people ? ”

“ Their attitude ? ”

“ I have tried to believe,” he said vehemently, “ that it was my fancy ; but I can’t be mistaken. They regard me with distrust; they have withdrawn from me the sympathy upon which I was placing all my hopes of success. No, no,” he added, seeing her about to speak in refutation, “ I am right. I feel it, I know it.”

“ They seem kinder to me than ever,” Egeria ventured.

“ They are kinder to you,” returned her father. “ They are distinguishing between us. They wish to keep you, and to cast me out.”

Egeria looked incredulous. “ But how could they do that ? Nothing could separate us ! ”

“ I am glad to hear you say that,” said her father, huskily. “ There have been times of late when I thought — when I was afraid — You have seemed indifferent ” —

“ Father! ”

“I know that I wronged you.” He turned his face, and they were both silent, till Egeria spoke.

“ If what you think is true, we must go away. Where will we go ? Shall we go home ? ”

“ No, I can’t go there. It’s impossible.”

Egeria did not reply directly, but after a while she said, “ Father, do you ever think of Mr. Hatch ? ”

“ No. Why should I think of him ? ”

“ He lent us money, and he expected to find us at home when he got back.”

“ His loan could scarcely have paid the debt he was under to me. I regarded it in that light, and so did he. We had no obligation to be where he expected to find us.”

“ No ; but if he went there, and did n’t find us, it would make grandfather very anxious.”

“ I’m not obliged to preserve your grandfather from anxiety. He hasn’t known our movements since we left home. But I do care for Mr. Hatch. I will write him, and tell him where we are. Where was he going ? ”

Egeria turned a little white. “I — I don’t know,” she faltered. “ I can’t remember. Wait! Yes — he gave me his address, and I — I can’t think what I did with it.”

“ Perhaps you put it in your bag, with the money.”

“ Yes — I did. I put it in my bag. It’s gone. Everything about that time seems so dim, so ” —

“ It’s no matter ; not the least,” said her father. “ He probably has n’t returned to the East. When he does, he can readily find us out.” Egeria looked grieved and troubled, but he hurried on to say, “ The great question is how to bring about the results — the important results — for which I came here. I will not be driven from conditions which I thought so favorable, without an effort. Their leading men may turn against me if they choose ; it is their peril and their loss; but the great mass of the community will be with me in any collision.”

“ Why, what makes you think there is a feeling against you, father, in any of them ? ”

“ Do you remember that day in the orchard when you first went out?, Joseph and I had some words, in which he showed plainly what had been fermenting in his mind, when he intimated the subordination of spiritualism to Shakerism. I understood his drift, though at the time I said nothing. Afterwards the matter dropped; but within a few days I have been made to feel very distinctly a sphere of opposition. They think, the leading men, that my utilization of their conditions will undermine their whole system. And so it will. Their system is unnaturally and ridiculously mistaken; next after their spiritualism, their communism is the only thing about them that is fit to survive. Their angelic life, as they call it, is an absurd delusion, the dream of a sick woman.”

“ Oh, I hope you won’t do anything to break up their life ! ” cried the girl, in simple trust of his power. “ They have been so good to us.”

“ Their system may remain, for all me,” returned her father. “ Even in riding down the opposition to me, I shall be careful of their rights. Egeria,” he said, “ you must have observed that during your long convalescence I have spared you all discussion of this matter ? ”

“ Yes,” she admitted, apprehensively.

“ I noticed that it seemed to irritate you, — to cost you an effort of mind and of will, which I was unwilling to tax you with till you had regained your full strength. The delay has been very irksome to me. I felt that we were losing precious time — that we were being placed in a false position; the waiting has worn upon me, as you see.” He looked even haggard in the coming twilight. He had lost flesh, and two loose cords hung where his double chin had been. “The question now is whether you will be ready when I call upon you for the test which I am impatient to make.”

Egeria sank down upon the bank not far from him, and pulled weakly at a tuft of grass. “ I was in hopes,” she said sadly, “ that you had given it up, father.”

“ Given it up ! ” he cried in amaze.

“ Why could n’t we wait ? ” she asked-

“ Wait ? Till when ? ”

“ Till we are dead. Then we shall know whether there is any truth in it all. It will be only a little while at the longest.”

“ A little while ! ” exclaimed the doctor indignantly. “ We may live to be a hundred! There are people in those houses yonder,” — he indicated the dormitories with a wave of his hand, — “ who have had everything to kill them in their prime ; who came here with the women who were to be their wives, or who left husband and children and home to embrace this asceticism; who for scores of years have had the memories of these to brood upon in their withered hearts. We can’t wait for death. We have a right to know the truth from life.”

They had so often talked of this deep concern as knowledge to be acquired that probably neither of them found anything grotesque or terrible in this phase of the discussion. Egeria now only urged vaguely, “ We have the Bible. ”

“ Yes,” rejoined her father, bitterly, “the Bible! the book with which they try to crush our hopes ! the record, permeated and saturated with spiritualism from Genesis to Revelation, by which they pretend to disprove and forbid spiritualism ! Shall one revelation suffice for all time? Shall we know nothing of the grand and hopeful changes which must have taken place in the world of spirits, as in this world, during the last eighteen hundred years ? Are we less worthy of communion with supernal essences than those semi-barbarous Jews ? Let us beware how we refuse the light of our day, because the light of the past still shines. Shines ? Flickers ! In many it is extinct. How shall faith and hope be rekindled ? Egeria, you must not try to argue with me on this point. You must submit yourself and your power implicitly to me. Will you do so ? ”

“ I don’t know what you mean by my power. I have no power.”

“ You have power, if you think you have. What I ask is that you will not oppose your will to mine.”

“ I will not oppose you,” she answered in a low voice. A gush of tears blinded her, and dimmed the beautiful world. “You know bow I have always hated this, father, — ever since I was old enough to think about it. A thing that seemed to be and seemed not to be, — it scared me ! And when it all stopped I thought you would n’t want to begin it again. But I will try to do whatever you ask me.”

“ I can’t understand your repugnance,” said her father. “ If this power of yours should bring you face to face with your mother ” —

“ I never saw her, — I should not know her ; and she would not know me for the little baby she left! ” cried the girl desperately. “ Besides, I can wait to go to her. And she can wait, too. I don't believe she would ever come. What good does it all do ? Oh, it’s dreadful to me ! ”

“ The time has been, Egeria,” rejoined her father, “ when your attitude would have discouraged me. Now, it only gives me pain. I am convinced that your own opinions and ideas of the matter are of no consequence to the agencies operating through you. All that I ask of you is that you yield yourself passively to my influence. Will you do this?”

“ Oh, yes, I will do all that I can. Oh, I wish I had died in the fever ! ”

“ You talk childishly,” said her father. “ How do you know that death would have released you from your obligation to this cause ? It may be your office in the next world, as it is in this, to be the medium of communication between embodied and disembodied spirits.”

“ Then I hope there won’t be any other world.”

Her father looked angrily at her as she rose and stood beside the rustic fountain. One of the Shaker boys, uncouth in his wide straw hat and misshapen trowsers, came by with some cows from pasture, and they stopped to drink from the great stone bowl. The voices of bathers in the river half a mile away came sadly across the intervening space of meadow land. The air was so heavy with dew that the rumble of a distant railroad train was as clear as if near at hand in the valley which the sound even of the steam whistle seldom visited. As Egeria and her father walked back to the office the crickets trilled along the path. The smell of the prosperous gardens beyond the wall came to them, and mingled with the thick, sweet scent of the milkweed by the wayside.

There was a little group before the office door. At the foot of the steps stood Humphrey, and with him Joseph and Elihu ; Diantha and Rachel were seen within the door-way, and Frances sat on the threshold. They were talking earnestly ; at sight of the doctor and Egeria they lowered their voices, and as they drew near they ceased speaking altogether, with the consciousness of sincere people interrupted by those of whom they have been speaking. At the same time Sister Frances made room upon the step, and beckoned to Egeria with more than her usual fondness, — with a sort of tender reparation and defiance. The girl took the place, and her father remained standing with the other men.

It plainly cost Elihu an effort to break the silence, but he said, after a moment, “ Have you seen the account of the exposure of that materialization medium out in St. Louis ? ”

“ No,” said the doctor ; “ but nothing of that sort surprises me. It is too soon yet for successful materializations, and all attempts at it are mixed with imposture.”

“ There’s quite a long account,” rejoined Elihu, “in yesterday’s Tribune.”

He made a movement to take the paper out of his breast pocket. “ I don’t care to see it,” said the doctor abruptly ; “ I can very well imagine it. Those things are sickening. Some wretched creature — a woman, I suppose — trying to eke out her gift by cheating, to get her bread. It rests with you Shakers to rescue this precious opportunity from infamy. But you must take hold of it in no half-hearted way.”

“ What do you mean ? ” asked Elihu.

“ You have the conditions here of perfect success, as I heard you boast when I first saw you in the Fitchburg depot at Boston. You are released from all thought of the morrow ; the spectre of want that pursues other men does not dog your steps ; you have neither wife nor husband nor child to cling about your hearts and weaken your will to serve the truth with absolute fidelity. Your discipline has rescued you from the vanity of making men wonder. There is nothing to prevent you from developing a perfect mediumship amongst you.”

“ You imply,” rejoined Elihu, with warmth, “ that we have failed of our duty in this respect. You don’t seem to realize that our very existence is a witness to the truth of an open relation between the spiritual and the material worlds. As a people we had birth in the inspired visions of Ann ; the very hymn we sang yesterday was breathed through our lips by angelic authority ; the tradition of prophecy has never been broken with us. We gave spiritualism to the world.”

“ Yes, you gave spiritualism to the world,” retorted Boynton, “ to mock its hopes and baffle its aspirations and corrupt its life. You flung it out a flaming brand, to be blown upon by cupidity and lust and ambition, till its heavenly light turned to an infernal fire, while you remained lapped in your secure prosperity, counting your gains ; adding acre to acre, beef to beef, sheep to sheep ; living the lives of clowns and peasants on week days, and on the Sabbath dancing before the Lord, for the amusement of the idlers who come to your church as they go to a circus.”

“ Friend,” interrupted Elihu warningly, “you are abusing our patience! ” The other Shakers looked shocked and alarmed, and Egeria rose to her feet.

“ I mean to abuse your patience. I mean to sting you into life. I mean to make you think of your heavenly origin, and realize how unworthy you have grown. You have subordinated your spiritualism to your Shakerism” —

“ Spiritualism was never anything but a means to Shakerism,” angrily retorted Elihu.

“ I would make it the end of Shakerism. How has it profited you as a means ? ” demanded Dr. Boynton.

“ It has made us what we are. It gave us a discipline and a rule of life, because it descended, unasked, from heaven. But your secular spiritualism which you want to have us take up, and which has continued through solicitation and entreaty, has given you no code of morality. It has been a vain show, making men worse and not better, and tempting them to all manner of lies. And you wish us to take it up at the point to which the world has brought it ? Nay ! You wish us to subordinate the angelic life, and the good that has crowned it, to the mere dead means ? Nay ! To value the staff by which we have climbed, and not the height we have reached ? Nay ! Prove first that in your hands it has not become a stock to conjure with, — to be cast on the ground and turned into a serpent for a wonder before Pharaoh and a confusion of true prophecy, — and then we will take it up again.”

The men’s faces had grown red, and they approached each other angrily.

“ You have deceived me ! ” cried Dr. Boynton. “ You led me to believe that among you I should find the sympathy and support which are essential to success.”

“ We led you to believe nothing,” retorted Elihu. “ An accident threw you among us, after we had fully and fairly warned you that we should not receive you or any one without deliberation. We welcomed you kindly, and you have had our best.”

“ Elihu, Elihu ! ” softly pleaded Sister Frances, “ it is n’t for us to boast of our good deeds.” The others silently looked from him to her.

“ There is no vainglory in the truth, Frances,” answered Elihu, severely. “ We have been assailed with unjust tauntings.”

“And I,” said Dr. Boynton, “have been provoked to a harsher frankness than I meant to use, by your indifference to an interest infinitely more vital than any rule of life ; by a gradually increasing enmity here which I have now felt for some time, and have struggled against in vain. There has been a withdrawal of confidence from me.”

“You have no right to say that,” Elihu promptly retorted. “ The conditions remain precisely the same as when you first unfolded your plans to us in family meeting. We dealt plainly with you then, and we know nothing more of you now than we knew within two days after your arrival here. You made certain pretensions then, and you have fulfilled none of them. Instead of that, you come after nearly three months’ time, and require us to lay aside our industries, and join you in a pursuit which has proved the vainest and idlest that has ever wasted the human mind.”

“ You have twice upbraided me, now,” said Dr. Boynton, “ with my failure to make good my claim to your confidence. You shall not upbraid me a third time. You knew why I was waiting. You knew that it was at a cost almost like life itself that I waited, and that I counted every hour of delay as a drop of blood wrung from my heart. But I will delay no longer. You shall have the proof now — at once — this very night. Call your family together. We won’t lose another moment. Egeria ! ”

Egeria started: the quarrel — for it had assumed this character — had begun so suddenly, and probably without intention or expectation on either side, though this is by no means certain; but she must have known whither it tended.

“ You are right! ” cried Elihu, with equal heat. “ There is no time like the present. Matters have come to such a pass that something must be done.”

“ Call your family together! ” repeated Dr. Boynton, defiantly.

“ There is no need ; this is the evening for family meeting,” the Shaker rejoined.

In fact, while they had been disputing, a group of the younger Shakers and Shakeresses had formed about the door of the family house in which the meeting was to be held, and their voices, unheeded by the angry disputants and their listeners, had risen on the cool twilight air. At that distance the white dresses of the young girls, freshly put on for the evening worship, showed pale through the gathering dusk, and their singing, robbed of its shrillness, was the voice of that disembodied devotion which haunts dim cathedral arches, and in our bright New World sometimes drifts out of open church windows to the ear of the passer, taking his heart with an indefinite religious passion and yearning.

W. D. Howells.

  1. In placing some passages of his atory among the Shakers of an easily recognizable locality, the author has carefully avoided the study of personal traits, and he wishes explicitly to state that his Shakers are imaginary in everything but their truth, charity, and purity of life, and that scarcely less lovable quaintness to which no realism could do perfect justice.