A Chapter from an Unwritten Romance
by Louisa May Alcott
On the first day of June, 184—, a large wagon, drawn
by a small horse and containing a motley load, went lumbering over certain
New England hills, with the pleasing accompaniments of wind, rain, and
hail. A serene man with a serene child upon his knee was driving, or rather
being driven, for the small horse had it all his own way. A brown boy with
a William Penn style of countenance sat beside him, firmly embracing a
bust of Socrates. Behind them was an energetic-looking woman, with a benevolent
brow, satirical mouth, and eyes brimful of hope and courage. A baby reposed
upon her lap, a mirror leaned against her knee, and a basket of provisions
danced about at her feet, as she struggled with a large, unruly umbrella.
Two blue-eyed little girls, with hands full of childish treasures, sat
under one old shawl, chatting happily together.
In front of this lively party stalked a tall, sharp-featured
man, in a long blue cloak; and a fourth small girl trudged alone beside
him through the mud as if she rather enjoyed it.
The wind whistled over the bleak hills; the rain
fell in a despondent drizzle, and twilight began to fall. But the calm
man gazed as tranquilly into the fog as if he beheld a radiant bow of promise
spanning the gray sky. The cheery woman tried to cover every one but herself
with the big umbrella. The brown boy pillowed his head on the bald pare
of Socrates and slumbered peacefully. The little girls sang lullabies to
their dolls in soft, maternal murmurs. The sharp-nosed pedestrian marched
steadily on, with the blue cloak streaming out behind him like a banner;
and the lively infant splashed through the puddles with a duck-like satisfaction
pleasant to behold.
Thus these modern pilgrims journeyed hopefully out
of the old world, to found a new one in the wilderness.
The editors of The Transcendental Tripod had
received from Messrs. Lion & Lamb (two of the aforesaid pilgrims) a
communication from which the following statement is an extract:—
We have made arrangements with the proprietor of
an estate of about a hundred acres which liberates this tract from human
ownership. Here we shall prosecute our effort to initiate a Family in harmony
with the primitive instincts of man.
Ordinary secular farming is not our object. Fruit,
grain, pulse, herbs, flax, and other vegetable products, receiving assiduous
attention, will afford ample manual occupation, and chaste supplies for
the bodily needs. It is intended to adorn the pastures with orchards, and
to supersede the labor of cattle by the spade and the pruning-knife.
Consecrated to human freedom, the land awaits the
sober culture of devoted men. Beginning with small pecuniary means, this
enterprise must be rooted in a reliance on the succors of an ever-bounteous
Providence, whose vital affinities being secured by this union with uncorrupted
field and unworldly persons, the cares and injuries of a life of gain are
The inner nature of each member of the Family is
at no time neglected. Our plan contemplates all such disciplines, cultures,
and habits as evidently conduce to the purifying of the inmates.
Pledged to the spirit alone, the founders anticipate
no hasty or numerous addition to their numbers. The kingdom of peace is
entered only through the gates of self-denial; and felicity is the test
and the reward of loyalty to the unswerving law of Love.
This prospective Eden at present consisted of an
old red farmhouse, a dilapidated barn, many acres of meadow-land, and a
grove. Ten ancient apple-trees were all the “chaste supply” which the place
offered as yet; but, in the firm belief that plenteous orchards were soon
to be evoked from their inner consciousness, these sanguine founders had
christened their domain Fruitlands.
Here Timon Lion intended to found a colony of Latter
Day Saints, who, under his patriarchal sway, should regenerate the world
and glorify his name for ever. Here Abel Lamb, with the devoutest faith
in the high ideal which was to him a living truth, desired to plant a Paradise,
where Beauty, Virtue, Justice, and Love might live happily together, without
the possibility of a serpent entering in. And here his wife, unconverted
but faithful to the end, hoped, after many wanderings over the face of
the earth, to find rest for herself and a home for her children.
“There is our new abode,” announced the enthusiast,
smiling with a satisfaction quite undamped by the drops dripping from his
hat-brim, as they turned at length into a cart-path that wound along a
steep hillside into a barren-looking valley.
“A little difficult of access,” observed his practical
wife, as she endeavored to keep her various household gods from going overboard
with every lurch of the laden ark.
“Like all good things. But those who earnestly desire
and patiently seek will soon find us,” placidly responded the philosopher
from the mud, through which he was now endeavoring to pilot the much-enduring
“Truth lies at the bottom of a well, Sister Hope,”
said Brother Timon, pausing to detach his small comrade from a gate, whereon
she was perched for a clearer gaze into futurity.
“That's the reason we so seldom get at it, I suppose,”
replied Mrs. Hope, making a vain clutch at the mirror, which a sudden jolt
sent flying out of her hands.
“We want no false reflections here,” said Timon,
with a grim smile, as he crunched the fragments under foot in his onward
Sister Hope held her peace, and looked wistfully
through the mist at her promised home. The old red house with a hospitable
glimmer at its windows cheered her eyes; and, considering the weather,
was a fitter refuge than the sylvan bowers some of the more ardent souls
might have preferred.
The new-comers were welcomed by one of the elect
precious,—a regenerate farmer, whose idea of reform consisted chiefly
in wearing white cotton raiment and shoes of untanned leather. This costume,
with a snowy beard, gave him a venerable, and at the same time a somewhat
The goods and chattels of the Society not having
arrived, the weary family reposed before the fire on blocks of wood, while
Brother Moses White regaled them with roasted potatoes, brown bread and
water, in two plates, a tin pan, and one mug; his table service being limited.
But, having cast the forms and vanities of a depraved world behind them,
the elders welcomed hardship with the enthusiasm of new pioneers, and the
children heartily enjoyed this foretaste of what they believed was to be
a sort of perpetual picnic.
During the progress of this frugal meal, two more
brothers appeared. One was a dark, melancholy man, clad in homespun, whose
peculiar mission was to turn his name hind part before and use as few words
as possible. The other was a bland, bearded Englishman, who expected to
be saved by eating uncooked food and going without clothes. He had not
yet adopted the primitive costume, however; but contented himself with
meditatively chewing dry beans out of a basket.
“Every meal should be a sacrament, and the vessels
used should be beautiful and symbolical,” observed Brother Lamb, mildly,
righting the tin pan slipping about on his knees. “I priced a silver service
when in town, but it was too costly; so I got some graceful cups and vases
of Britannia ware.”
“Hardest things in the world to keep bright. Will
whiting be allowed in the community!” inquired Sister Hope, with a housewife's
interest in labor-saving institutions.
“Such trivial questions will be discussed at a more
fitting time,” answered Brother Timon, sharply, as he burnt his fingers
with a very hot potato. “Neither sugar, molasses, milk, butter, cheese,
nor flesh are to be used among us, for nothing is to be admitted which
has caused wrong or death to man or beast.”
“Our garments are to be linen till we learn to raise
our own cotton or some substitute for woolen fabrics,” added Brother Abel,
blissfully basking in an imaginary future as warm and brilliant as the
generous fire before him.
“Haou abaout shoes!” asked Brother Moses, surveying
his own with interest.
“We must yield that point till we can manufacture
an innocent substitute for leather. Bark, wood, or some durable fabric
will be invented in time. Meanwhile, those who desire to carry out our
idea to the fullest extent can go barefooted,” said Lion, who liked extreme
“I never will, nor let my girls,” murmured rebellious
Sister Hope, under her breath.
“Haou do you cattle'ate to treat the ten-acre lot!
Ef things ain't 'tended to right smart, we shan't hev no crops,” observed
the practical patriarch in cotton.
“We shall spade it,” replied Abel, in such perfect
good faith that Moses said no more, though he indulged in a shake of the
head as he glanced at hands that had held nothing heavier than a pen for
years. He was a paternal old soul and regarded the younger men as promising
boys on a new sort of lark.
“What shall we do for lamps, if we cannot use any
animal substance! I do hope light of some sort is to be thrown upon the
enterprise,” said Mrs. Lamb, with anxiety, for in those days kerosene and
camphene were not, and gas unknown in the wilderness.
“We shall go without till we have discovered some
vegetable oil or wax to serve us,” replied Brother Timon, in a decided
tone, which caused Sister Hope to resolve that her private lamp should
be always trimmed, if not burning.
“Each member is to perform the work for which experience,
strength, and taste best fit him,” continued Dictator Lion. “Thus drudgery
and disorder will be avoided and harmony prevail. We shall rise at dawn,
begin the day by bathing, followed by music, and then a chaste repast of
fruit and bread. Each one finds congenial occupation till the meridian
meal; when some deep-searching conversation gives rest to the body and
development to the mind. Healthful labor again engages us till the last
meal, when we assemble in social communion, prolonged till sunset, when
we retire to sweet repose, ready for the next day's activity.”
“What part of the work do you incline to yourself!”
asked Sister Hope, with a humorous glimmer in her keen eyes.
“I shall wait till it is made clear to me. Being
in preference to doing is the great aim, and this comes to us rather by
a resigned willingness than a wilful activity, which is a check to all
divine growth,” responded Brother Timon.
“I thought so.” And Mrs. Lamb sighed audibly,
for during the year he had spent in her family Brother Timon had so faithfully
carried out his idea of “being, not doing,” that she had found his “divine
growth” both an expensive and unsatisfactory process.
Here her husband struck into the conversation, his
face shining with the light and joy of the splendid dreams and high ideals
hovering before him.
“In these steps of reform, we do not rely so much
on scientific reasoning or physiological skill as on the spirit's dictates.
The greater part of man's duty consists in leaving alone much that he now
does. Shall I stimulate with tea, coffee, or wine! No. Shall I consume
flesh! Not if I value health. Shall i subjugate cattle! Shall I claim property
in any created thing! Shall I trade! Shall I adopt a form of religion!
Shall I interest myself in politics! To how many of these questions—could
we ask them deeply enough and could they be heard as having relation to
our eternal welfare—would the response be 'Abstain'!”
A mild snore seemed to echo the last word of Abel's
rhapsody, for Brother Moses had succumbed to mundane slumber and sat nodding
like a massive ghost. Forest Absalom, the silent man, and John Pease, the
English member, now departed to the barn; and Mrs. Lamb led her flock to
a temporary fold, leaving the founders of the “Consociate Family” to build
castles in the air till the fire went out and the symposium ended in smoke.
The furniture arrived next day, and was soon bestowed;
for the principal property of the community consisted in books. To this
rare library was devoted the best room in the house, and the few busts
and pictures that still survived many nittings were added to beautify the
sanctuary, for here the family was to meet for amusement, instruction,
Any housewife can imagine the emotions of Sister
Hope, when she took possession of a large, dilapidated kitchen, containing
an old stove and the peculiar stores out of which food was to be evolved
for her little family of eleven. Cakes of maple sugar, dried peas and beans,
barley and hominy, meal of all sorts, potatoes, and dried fruit. No milk,
butter, cheese, tea, or meat appeared. Even salt was considered a useless
luxury and spice entirely forbidden by these lovers of Spartan simplicity.
A ten years' experience of vegetarian vagaries had been good training for
this new freak, and her sense of the ludicrous supported her through many
Unleavened bread, porridge, and water for breakfast;
bread, vegetables, and water for dinner; bread, fruit, and water for
supper was the bill of fare ordained by the elders. No teapot profaned
that sacred stove, no gory steak cried aloud for vengeance from her chaste
gridiron; and only a brave woman's taste, time, and temper were sacrificed
on that domestic altar.
The vexed question of light was settled by buying
a quantity of bayberry wax for candles; and, on discovering that no one
knew how to make them, pine knots were introduced, to be used when absolutely
necessary. Being summer, the evenings were not long, and the weary fraternity
found it no great hardship to retire with the birds. The inner light was
sufficient for most of them. But Mrs. Lamb rebelled. Evening was the only
time she had to herself, and while the tired feet rested the skilful hands
mended torn frocks and little stockings, or anxious heart forgot its burden
in a book.
So “mother's lamp” burned steadily, while the philosophers
built a new heaven and earth by moonlight; and through all the metaphysical
mists and philanthropic pyrotechnics of that period Sister Hope played
her own little game of “throwing light,” and none but the moths were the
worse for it.
Such farming probably was never seen before since
Adam delved. The band of brothers began by spading garden and field; but
a few days of it lessened theirardor amazingly. Blistered hands and aching
backs suggested the expediency of permitting the use of cattle till the
workers were better fitted for noble toil by a summer of the new life.
Brother Moses brought a yoke of oxen from his farm,
—at least, the philosophers thought so till it was discovered that one
of the animals was a cow; and Moses confessed that he “must be let down
easy, for he couldn't live on garden sarse entirely.”
Great was Dictator Lion's indignation at this lapse
from virtue. But time pressed, the work must be done; so the meek cow was
permitted to wear the yoke and the recreant brother continued to enjoy
forbidden draughts in the barn, which dark proceeding caused the children
to regardhim as one set apart for destruction.
The sowing was equally peculiar, for, owing to some
mistake, the three brethren, who devoted themselves to this graceful task,
found when about half through the job that each had been sowing a different
sort of grain in the same field; a mistake which caused much perplexity,
as it could not be remedied; but, after a long consultation and a good
deal of laughter, it was decided to say nothing and see what would come
The garden was planted with a generous supply of
useful roots and herbs; but, as manure was not allowed to profane the virgin
soil, few of these vegetable treasures ever came up. Purslanes reigned
supreme, and the disappointed planters ate it philosophically, deciding
that Nature knew what was best for them, and would generously supply their
needs, if they could only learn to digest her “sallets” and wild roots.
The orchard was laid out, a little grafting done,
new trees and vines set, regardless of the unfit season and entire ignorance
of the husbandmen, who honestly believed that in the autumn they would
reap a bounteous harvest.
Slowly things got into order, and rapidly rumors
of the new experiment went abroad, causing many strange spirits to nock
thither, for in those days communities were the fashion and transcendentalism
raged wildly. Some came to look on and laugh, some to be supported in poetic
idleness, a few to believe sincerely and work heartily. Each member was
allowed to mount his favorite hobby and ride it to his heart's content.
Very queer were some of the riders, and very rampant some of the hobbies.
One youth, believing that language was of little
consequence if the spirit was only right, startled new-comers by blandly
greeting them with “Good-morning, damn you,” and other remarks of an equally
mixed order. A second irrepressible being held that all the emotions of
the soul should be freely expressed, and illustrated his theory by antics
that would have sent him to a lunatic asylum, if, as an unregenerate wag
said, he had not already been in one. When his spirit soared, he climbed
trees and shouted; when doubt assailed him, he lay upon the floor and groaned
lamentably. At joyful periods, he raced, leaped, and sang; when sad, he
wept aloud; and when a great thought burst upon him in the watches of the
night, he crowed like a jocund cockerel, to the great delight of the children
and the great annoyance of the elders. One musical brother fiddled whenever
so moved, sang sentimentally to the four little girls, and put a music-box
on the wall when he hoed corn.
Brother Pease ground away at his uncooked food, or
browsed over the farm on sorrel, mint, green fruit, and new vegetables.
Occasionally he took his walks abroad, airily attired in an unbleached
cotton poncho, which was the nearest approach to the primeval costume he
was allowed to indulge in. At midsummer he retired to the wilderness,
to try his plan where the woodchucks were without prejudices and huckleberry-bushes
were hospitably full. A sunstroke unfortunately spoilt his plan, and he
returned to semi-civilization a sadder and wiser man.
Forest Absalom preserved his Pythagorean silence,
cultivated his fine dark locks, and worked like a beaver, setting an excellent
example of brotherly love, justice, and fidelity by his upright life. He
it was who helped overworked Sister Hope with her heavy washes, kneaded
the endless succession of batches of bread, watched over the children,
and did the many tasks left undone by the brethren, who were so busy discussing
and defining great duties that they forgot to perform the small ones.
Moses White placidly plodded about, “chorin' raound,”
as he called it, looking like an old-time patriarch, with his silver hair
and flowing beard, and saving the community from many a mishap by his thrift
and Yankee shrewdness.
Brother Lion domineered over the whole concern; for,
having put the most money into the speculation, he was resolved to make
it pay,—as if anything founded on an ideal basis could be expected to
do so by any but enthusiasts.
Abel Lamb simply revelled in the Newness, firmly
believing that his dream was to be beautifully realized and in time not
only little Fruitlands, but the whole earth, be turned into a Happy Valley.
He worked with every muscle of his body, for he was in deadly earnest.
He taught with his whole head and heart; planned and sacrificed, preached
and prophesied, with a soul full of the purest aspirations, most unselfish
purposes, and desires for a life devoted to God and man, too high and tender
to bear the rough usage of this world.
It was a little remarkable that only one woman ever
joined this community. Mrs. Lamb merely followed wheresoever her husband
led,—“as ballast for his balloon,” as she said, in her bright way.
Miss Jane Gage was a stout lady of mature years,
sentimental, amiable, and lazy. She wrote verses copiously, and had vague
yearnings and graspings after the unknown, which led her to believe herself
fitted for a higher sphere than any she had yet adorned.
Having been a teacher, she was set to instructing
the children in the common branches. Each adult member took a turn at the
infants; and, as each taught in his own way, the result was a chronic state
of chaos in the minds of these much-afflicted innocents.
Sleep, food, and poetic musings were the desires
of dear Jane's life, and she shirked all duties as clogs upon her spirit's
wings. Any thought of lending a hand with the domestic drudgery never occurred
to her; and when to the question, “Are there any beasts of burden on the
place?” Mrs. Lamb answered, with a face that told its own tale, “Only one
woman!” the buxom Jane took no shame to herself, but laughed at the joke,
and let the stout-hearted sister tug on alone. Unfortunately, the poor
lady hankered after the flesh-pots, and endeavored to stay herself with
private sips of milk, crackers, and cheese, and on one dire occasion she
partook of fish at a neighbor's table.
One of the children reported this sad lapse from
virtue, and poor Jane was publicly reprimanded by Timon.
“I only took a little bit of the tail,” sobbed the
“Yes, but the whole fish had to be tortured and slain
that you might tempt your carnal appetite with that one taste of the tail.
Know ye not, consumers of flesh meat, that ye are nourishing the wolf and
tiger in your bosoms?”
At this awful question and the peal of laughter which
arose from some of the younger brethren, tickled by the ludicrous contrast
between the stout sinner, the stern judge, and the naughty satisfaction
of the young detective, poor Jane fled from the room to pack her trunk
and return to the world where fishes' tails were not forbidden fruit.
Transcendental wild oats were sown broadcast that
year, and the fame thereof has not yet ceased in the land; for, futile
as this crop seemed to outsiders, it bore an invisible harvest, worth much
to those who planted in earnest. As none of themembers of this particular
community have ever recounted their experiences before, a few of them may
not be amiss, since the interest in these attempts has never died out and
Fruitlands was the most ideal of all these castles in Spain.
A new dress was invented, since cotton, silk, and
wool were forbidden as the product of slave-labor, worm-slaughter, and
sheep-robbery. Tunics and trousers of brown linen were the only wear. The
women's skirts were longer, and their straw hat-brims wider than the men's,
and this was the only difference. Some persecution lent a charm to the
costume, and the long-haired, linen-clad reformers quite enjoyed the mild
martyrdom they endured when they left home.
Money was abjured, as the root of all evil. The produce
of the land was to supply most of their wants, or be exchanged for the
few things they could not grow. This idea had its inconveniences; but self-denial
was the fashion, and it was surprising how many things one can do without.
When they desired to travel, they walked, if possible, begged the loan
of a vehicle, or boldly entered car or coach, and, stating their principles
to the officials, took the consequences. Usually their dress, their earnest
frankness, and gentle resolution won them a passage; but now and then they
met with hard usage, and had the satisfaction of suffering for their principles.
On one of these penniless pilgrimages they took passage
on a boat, and, when fare was demanded, artlessly offered to talk, instead
of pay. As the boat was well under way and they actually had not a cent,
there was no help for it. So Brothers Lion and Lamb held forth to the assembled
passengers in their most eloquent style. There must have been something
effective in this conversation, for the listeners were moved to take up
a contribution for these inspired lunatics, who preached peace on earth
and good-will to man so earnestly, with empty pockets. A goodly sum was
collected; but when the captain presented it the reformers proved that
they were consistent even in their madness, for not a penny would they
accept, saying, with a look at the group about them, whose indifference
or contempt had changed to interest and respect, “You see how well we get
on without money”; and so went serenely on their way, with their linen
blouses flapping airily in the cold October wind.
They preached vegetarianism everywhere and resisted
all temptations of the flesh, contentedly eating apples and bread at well-spread
tables, and much afflicting hospitable hostesses by denouncing their food
and taking away their appetites, discussing the “horrors of shambles,”
the “incorporation of the brute in man,” and “on elegant abstinence the
sign of a pure soul.” But, when the perplexed or offended ladies asked
what they should eat, they got in reply a bill of fare consisting of “bowls
of sunrise for breakfast,” “solar seeds of the sphere,” “dishes from Plutarch's
chaste table,” and other viands equally hard to find in any modern market.
Reform conventions of all sorts were haunted by these
brethren, who said many wise things and did many foolish ones. Unfortunately,
these wanderings interfered with their harvest at home; but the rule was
to do what the spirit moved, so they left their crops to Providence and
went a-reaping in wider and, let us hope, more fruitful fields than their
Luckily, the earthly providence who watched over
Abel Lamb was at hand to glean the scanty crop yielded by the “uncorrupted
land,” which, “consecrated to human freedom,” had received “the sober culture
of devout men.”
About the time the grain was ready to house, some
call of the Oversoul wafted all the men away. An easterly storm was
coming up and the yellow stacks were sure to be ruined. Then Sister Hope
gathered her forces. Three little girIs, one boy (Timon's son), and herself,
harnessed to clothes-baskets and Russia-linen sheets, were the only teams
she could command; but with these poor appliances the indomitable woman
got in the grain and saved food for her young, with the instinct and energy
of a mother-bird with a brood of hungry nestlings to feed.
This attempt at regeneration had its tragic as well
as comic side, though the world only saw the former.
With the first frosts, the butterflies, who had sunned
themselves in the new light through the summer, took flight, leaving the
few bees to see what honey they had stored for winter use. Precious little
appeared beyond the satisfaction of a few months of holy living.
At first it seemed as if a chance to try holy dying
also was to be offered them. Timon, much disgusted with the failure of
the scheme, decided to retire to the Shakers, who seemed to be the only
successful community going.
“What is to become of us!” asked Mrs. Hope, for Abel
was heartbroken at the bursting of his lovely bubble.
“You can stay here, if you like, till a tenant is
found. No more wood must be cut, however, and no more corn ground. All
I have must be sold to pay the debts of the concern, as the responsibility
rests with me,” was the cheering reply.
“Who is to pay us for what we have lost! I gave all
I had,—furniture, time, strength, six months of my children's lives,
—and all are wasted. Abel gave himself body and soul, and is almost wrecked
by hard work and disappointmenr. Are we to have no return for this, but
leave to starve and freeze in an old house, with winter at hand, no money,
and hardly a friend left; for this wild scheme has alienated nearly all
we had. You talk much about justice. Let us have a little, since there
is nothing else left.”
But the woman's appeal met with no reply but the
old one: “It was an experiment. We all risked something, and must bear
our losses as we can.”
With this cold comfort, Timon departed with his son,
and was absorbed into the Shaker brotherhood, where he soon found the order
of things reversed, and it was all work and no play.
Then the tragedy began for the forsaken little family.
Desolation and despair fell upon Abel. As his wife said, his new beliefs
had alienated many friends. Some thought him mad, some unprincipled. Even
the most kindly thought him a visionary, whom it was useless to help till
he took more practical views of life. All stood aloof, saying: “Let him
work out his own ideas, and see what they are worth.”
He had tried, but it was a failure. The world was
not ready for Utopia yet, and those who attempted to found it only got
laughed at for their pains. In other days, men could sell all and give
to the poor, lead lives devoted to holiness and high thought, and, after
the persecution was over, find themselves honored as saints or martyrs.
But in modern times these things are out of fashion. To live for one's
principles, at all costs, is a dangerous speculation; and the failure of
an ideal, no matter how humane and noble, is harder for the world to forgive
and forget than bank robbery or the grand swindles of corrupt politicians.
Deep waters now for Abel, and for a time there seemed
no passage through. Strength and spirits were exhausted by hard work and
too much thought. Courage failed when, looking about for help, he saw no
sympathizing face, no hand outstretched to help him, no voice to say cheerily,—
“We all make mistakes, and it takes many experiences
to shape a life. Try again, and let us help you.”
Every door was closed, every eye averted, every heart
cold, and no way open whereby he might earn bread for his children. His
principles would not permit him to do many things that others did; and
in the few fields where conscience would allow him to work, who would employ
a man who had flown in the face of society, as he had done?
Then this dreamer, whose dream was the life of his
life, resolved to carry out his idea to the bitter end. There seemed no
place for him here,—no work, no friend. To go begging conditions was
as ignoble as to go begging money. Better perish of want than sell one's
soul for the sustenance ofhis body. Silently he lay down upon his bed,
turned his face to the wall, and waited with pathetic patience for death
to cut the knot which he could not untie. Days and nights went by, and
neither food nor water passed his lips. Soul and body were dumbly struggling
together, and no word of complaint betrayed what either suffered.
His wife, when tears and prayers were unavailing,
sat down to wait the end with a mysterious awe and submission; for in this
entire resignation of all things there was an eloquent significance to
her who knew him as no other human being did.
“Leave all to God,” was his belief; and in this crisis
the loving soul clung to this faith, sure that the Allwise Father would
not desert this child who tried to live so near to Him. Gathering her children
about her, she waited the issue of the tragedy that was being enacted in
that solitary room, while the first snow fell outside, untrodden by the
footprints of a single friend.
But the strong angels who sustain and teach perplexed
and troubled souls came and went, leaving no trace without, but working
miracles within. For, when all other sentiments had faded into dimness,
all other hopes died utterly; when the bitterness of death was nearly over,
when body was past any pang of hunger or thirst, and soul stood ready to
depart, the love that outlives all else refused to die. Head had bowed
to defeat, hand had grown weary with too heavy tasks, but heart could not
grow cold to those who lived in its tender depths, even when death touched
“My faithful wife, my little girls,—they have not
forsaken me, they are mine by ties that none can break. What right have
I to leave them alone! What right toescape from the burden and the sorrow
I have helped to bring? This duty remains to me, and I must do it manfully.
For their sakes, the world will forgive me in time; for their sakes, God
will sustain me now.”
Too feeble to rise, Abel groped for the food that
always lay within his reach, and in the darkness and solitude of that memorable
night ate and drank what was to him the bread and wine of a new communion,
a new dedication of heart and life to the duties that were left him
when the dreams fled.
In the early dawn, when that sad wife crept fearfully
to see what change had come to the patient face on the pillow, she found
it smiling at her, saw a wasted hand outstretched to her, and heard a feeble
voice cry bravely, “Hope!”
What passed in that little room is not to be recorded
except in the hearts of those who suffered and endured much for love's
sake. Enough for us to know that soon the wan shadow of a man came forth,
leaning on the arm that never failed him, to be welcomed and cherished
by the children, who never forgot the experiences of that time.
“Hope” was the watchword now; and, while the last
logs blazed on the hearth, the last bread and apples covered the table,
the new commander, with recoveredcourage, said to her husband,—
“Leave all to God—and me. He has done his part,
now I will do mine.”
“But we have no money, dear.”
“Yes, we have. I sold all we could spare, and have
enough to take us away from this snowbank.”
“Where can we go?”
“I have engaged four rooms at our good neighbor,
Lovejoy's. There we can live cheaply till spring. Then for new plans and
a home of our own, please God.”
“But, Hope, your little store won't last long, and
we have no friends.”
“I can sew and you can chop wood. Lovejoy offers
you the same pay as he gives his other men; my old friend, Mrs. Truman,
will send me all the work I want; and my blessed brother stands by us to
the end. Cheer up, dear heart, for while there is work and love in the
world we shall not suffer.”
“And while I have my good angel Hope, I shall not
despair, even if I wait another thirty years before I step beyond the circle
of the sacred little world in which I still have a place to fill.”
So one bleak December day, with their few possessions
piled on a ox-sled, the rosy children perched atop, and the parents trudging
arm in arm behind, the exiles left their Eden and faced the world again.
“Ah, me! my happy dream. How much I leave behind
that never can be mine again,” said Abel, looking back at the lost Paradise,
lying white and chill in its shroud of snow.
“Yes, dear; but how much we bring away,” answered
brave-hearted Hope, glancing from husband to children.
“Poor Fruitlands! The name was as great a failure
as the rest!” continued Abel, with a sigh, as a frostbitten apple fell
from a leafless bough at his feet.
But the sigh changed to a smile as his wife added,
in a half-tender, half-satirical tone,—
“Don't you think Apple Slump would be a better name
for it, dear!”