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"There are roses on my cross most beautiful to see,
quoted Eldress Abby, devoutly.
"It is easy enough for me," continued Susanna, "for it was no cross for me to give up my husband at the time; but oh, if a woman had a considerate, loving man to live with, one who would strengthen her and help her to be good, one who would protect and cherish her, one who would be an example to his children and bring them up in the fear of the Lord--that would be heaven below, too; and how could she bear to give it all up when it seems so good, so true, so right? Might n't two people walk together to God if both chose the same path?"
"It's my belief that one can find the road better alone than when somebody else is going alongside to distract them. Not that the Lord is going to turn anybody away, not even when they bring Him a lot of burned-out trash for a gift," said Eldress Abby, bluntly. "But don't you believe He sees the difference between a person that comes to Him when there is nowhere else to turn--a person that's tried all and found it wanting--and one that gives up freely pleasure, and gain, and husband, and home, to follow the Christ life?"
"Yes, He must, He must," Susanna answered faintly. "But the children, Eldress Abby! If you had n't any, you could perhaps keep yourself from wanting them; but if you had, how could you give them up? Jesus was the great Saviour of mankind, but next to Him it seems as if the children had been the little saviours, from the time the first one was born until this very day!"
"Yee, I've no doubt they keep the worst of the world's people, those that are living in carnal marriage without a thought of godliness, I've no doubt children keep that sort from going to the lowest perdition," allowed Eldress Abby;" and those we bring up in the Community make the best converts; but to a Shaker, the greater the sacrifice, the greater the glory. I wish you was gathered in, Susanna, for your hands and feet are quick to serve, your face is turned toward the truth, and your heart is all ready to receive the revelation."
"I wish I need n't turn my back on one set of duties to take up another," murmured Susanna, timidly.
"Yee; no doubt you do. Your business is to find out which are the higher duties, and then do those. Just make up your mind whether you'd rather replenish earth, as you've been doing, or replenish heaven, as we're trying to do. But I must go to my work; ten o'clock in the morning's a poor time to be discussing doctrine! You're for weeding, Susanna, I suppose?"
Brother Ansel was seated at a grindstone under the apple trees, teaching (intermittently) a couple of boys to grind a scythe, when Susanna came to her work in the herb-garden, Sue walking discreetly at her heels.
Ansel was a slow-moving, humorously-inclined, easygoing Brother, who was drifting into the kingdom of heaven without any special effort on his part.
"I'd 'bout as lives be a Shaker as anything else," had been his rather dubious statement of faith when he requested admittance into the band of Believers. "No more crosses, accordin' to my notion, an' consid'able more chance o' crowns!"
His experience of life "on the Adamic plane," the holy estate of matrimony, being the chief sin of this way of thought, had disposed him to regard woman as an apparently necessary, but not especially desirable, being. The theory of holding property in common had no terrors for him. He was generous, unambitious, frugal-minded, somewhat lacking in energy, and just as actively interested in his brother's welfare as in his own, which is perhaps not saying much. Shakerism was to him not a craving of the spirit, not a longing of the soul, but a simple, prudent theory of existence, lessening the various risks that man is exposed to in his journey through this vale of tears.
"Womenfolks makes splendid Shakers," he was wont to say. "They're all right as Sisters, 'cause their belief makes 'em safe. It kind o' shears 'em o' their strength; tames their sperits; takes the sting out of 'em an' keeps 'em from bein' sassy an' domineerin'. Jest as long as they think marriage is right, they'll marry ye spite of anything ye can do or say--four of 'em married my father one after another, though he fit 'em off as hard as he knew how. But if ye can once get the faith o' Mother Ann into 'em, they're as good afterwards as they was wicked afore. There's no stoppin' women-folks once ye get 'em started; they don't keer whether it's heaven or the other place, so long as they get where they want to go!"
Elder Daniel Gray had heard Brother Ansel state his religious theories more than once when he was first "gathered in," and secretly lamented the lack of spirituality in the new convert. The Elder was an instrument more finely attuned; sober, humble, pure-minded, zealous, consecrated to the truth as he saw it, he labored in and out of season for the faith he held so dear; yet as the years went on, he noted that Ansel, notwithstanding his eccentric views, lived an honest, temperate, Godfearing life, talking no scandal, dwelling in unity with his brethren and sisters, and upholding the banner of Shakerism in his own peculiar way.
As Susanna approached him, Ansel called out, "The yairbs are all ready for ye, Susanna; the weeds have been on the rampage sence yesterday's rain. Seems like the more uselesser a thing is, the more it flourishes. The yairbs grow; oh, yes, they make out to _grow_; but you don't see 'em come leapin' an' tearin' out o' the airth like weeds. Then there's the birds! I've jest been stoppin' my grindin' to look at 'em carry on. Take 'em all in all, there ain't nothin' so lazy an' aimless an' busy'boutnothin' as birds. They go kitin' 'roun' from tree to tree, hoppin' an' chirpin', flyin' here an' there 'thout no airthly objeck 'ceptin' to fly back ag'in. There's a heap o' useless critters in the univarse, but I guess birds are 'bout the uselessest, 'less it's grasshoppers, mebbe."
"I don't care what you say about the grasshoppers, Ansel, but you shan't abuse the birds," said Susanna, stooping over the beds of tansy and sage, thyme and summer savory. "Weeds or no weeds, we're going to have a great crop of herbs this year, Ansel!"
"Yee, so we be! We sowed more'n usual so's to keep the two jiners at work long's we could.--Take that scythe over to the barn, Jacob, an' fetch me another, an' step spry."
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Wiggin's Short Stories -by- Kate Douglas Wiggin