This is a story I wrote back in 2008, when it first appeared in serialised form on my blog at St Pixels online church.

Though this is a blogspot, you don't have to do the normal thing of starting at the end and working backwards, because I've reversed the order of posting so that you can read it through as a story like an online book.

I've got as much as I could on one page, but when you reach the bottom of this page, if you click on 'older posts' it will move you on to the next part of the story. There are 4 pages in all.

You will know when you've reached the end, because I have written THE END there :0)

I hope you enjoy the story. Its copyright is held by me for both text and illustrations, so do contact me with any requests to use any of the material.

May the reading of it bless you, and may the telling of it bless the Lord.
"Taking the Tide of Love", a novella by Penelope Wilcock, is a love story of the Plain people.

Copyright © 2008 by Penelope Wilcock.

All rights reserved to the author-illustrator. No part of this story or any of the pictures may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means without the prior permission of the author-illustrator Penelope Wilcock.


I shall not always be lost,

Nor need I always let go,

For by the same tide that I feel my life ebb,

I believe in, I wait for the flow.


Not one soul among the Old Order Forest Kindred of Believers ever thought Ebenezer Theodorus Stilleschuyler would get married. For as long as anyone’s memory looked back, Ebenezer had been too serious to think that way.

You could talk to him about the holy Word, and you could talk to him about sharpening a scythe or mending a harness. He was the first to come over when the barn roof had been damaged in the gales and someone was wanted to help fix it. He had a ready smile, wise and kind; but Eb was evidently shy around the women; he kept his eyes to the ground and his conversation guarded when it came to what was personal.

His word was sober and his thinking right sound; quiet in the meeting most often, when he spoke folks listened for his wisdom. He would have been an elder, only an elder should have a wife – for decorum and for wiser understanding.

“Eb”’ his mother said to him, as he called in with her firewood on the way back to his cottage at the end of the day, ‘I should like to see you settled while I’m yet here. You’ll miss my apple dumpling on the day you’ve to make your own!’

Eb smiled at her, and hugged her. ‘In God’s time, Mooma,’ he replied, leaving a kiss on the top of her head as he went about his way.

His mother stood in her doorway and watched him walking up the track. She thought Eb looked lonely. She trusted in God as well as he, but she thought there were times when God could do with a little help.

In this all-important matter of finding a wife, Eb wouldn’t look around, he wouldn’t try, he certainly wouldn’t flirt; he would only wait on the Lord’s time – and the Lord has plenty of it, it would seem. A little frown creased his mother’s normally peaceful brow.

The Kindred assumed Eb was too sober a troll to concern himself with such things, but it wasn’t so. In his heart patient loneliness longed for a helpmeet – his true companion to hold in his arms. It was just that he wouldn’t take what wasn’t given, and so far life had surely withheld the gift.

Sometimes he felt his soul stand at the shore of the world, looking out across wet sand and bleak grey water, waiting for the flutter of a rescuing pennant, the coming home of what he was waiting for. It hadn’t come, is all – and Heaven knows he had been waiting long enough.

He walked back up the track to his little house that stood on the edge of a drift of woodland, looking out across the dale that cradled the Kindredhof. It was his own choice to live alone – tradition preferred the custom of a young troll abiding with his parents until the Brothers worked together with him to build a cottage in celebration of his marriage. But this little house had stood empty a while. On the edge of the wood there, most folks had found its setting too lonesome; not really handy for visiting. Eb liked it, because of the wild creatures, the squirrels and birds, and the quiet company of the old trees.

He kicked off his boots in the porch, and went inside to light a fire in the stove. The evenings drew in chill and dark this time of year.

Eb ate a simple supper of bread and cold sausage (this was the kind of thing that worried his mother – he would have had a hearty stew followed by jam roly-poly and cream if he’d had the sense to stay home where he belonged) in the profound silence of his quiet house under the trees. Occasionally an owl called or a fox barked; nothing else broke the stillness.

Eb thought over the day that had gone, and the tasks that lay ahead tomorrow, and opened the stove door to watch the flames of the fire as he sat in its warmth.

He began to feel sleepy, but there remained one more thing to be done. Leaving his knife and plate to one side to be washed up in the morning, Eb carried from its shelf the old family Bible left him by his grandmother, to close the day with the holy Word of God.

He opened the great book before him on the table, and drew the lamp nearer to read.

Deuteronomy Chapter 7. Eb had set himself to reading through the five books of Moses, the great foundational tomes of the Torah, that had shaped the people of God in the story of their making.

Some parts he found inspiring, and moving; others set him to thinking and wondering. He had read aloud to himself the first story of all, the creation of heaven and earth, the breathing of life that made Adam a living being, the resting of God in fulfilment, delighting in all He had made. Eb loved that story. He loved the story of Noah, with the raven that flapped off and never came back, and the dove that returned; also the story of Jacob, wrestling all night with his God til the morning found him limping but filled with wonder and bearing a new name. Eb’s soul had been lifted and carried on the swell of familiar tales; and then the intricacy of Leviticus with its arcane detail, the mysterious demands of God, had intrigued him. Deuteronomy arrested him with moments of poetry; but tonight, trudging through Chapter 7, he felt lost in it: indifferent, tired and bored – and because of that, guilty as well.

…. your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid. 20Moreover, the LORD your God will send hornets among them, until those who are left and hide themselves from you are destroyed. 21You shall not be in dread of them, for the LORD your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God. 22 The LORD your God will clear away these nations before you little by little. You may not make an end of them at once, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you. 23 But the LORD your God will give them over to you and throw them into great confusion, until they are destroyed. 24And he will give their kings into your hand, and you shall make their name perish from under heaven. No one shall be able to stand against you until you have destroyed them. 25The carved images of their gods you shall burn with fire. You shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them or take it for yourselves, lest you be ensnared by it….

Eb struggled to concentrate, but was overwhelmed by the loneliness rising up like cold water inside him. It reminded him of the times the rain soaked through his boots and trousers, working out in the fields. For just so long leather and wool could hold out the cold and wet – but the misery of rainwater seeping through into his socks would get him in the end. So now in his soul, the miserable loneliness soaked right in. Eb sagged weary in his chair, propping his head on his hand. He felt a tear trickle down the side of his nose. It fell onto the open Bible. This was self-pity exactly and only; Eb felt most deeply ashamed. Rejoice in the Lord always… another tear coursed down his cheek, then another, a rivulet of tears. He never let people see this. He felt too ashamed. He closed his eyes and lowered his head to rest his brow on the great pages of the open book.

“Please…” he begged the almightiness of God: “thou who watchest over me… please, please please. Canst thou not see – dost thou not care? I am so terribly lonely.”

Then he righted himself, pulled out his kerchief and dabbed the precious Word dry, blew his nose and rubbed his eyes.

He sat for a moment, then as so often, he wrapped his arms around himself, and sat rocking in the gathered shadows of nightfall, aching with loneliness, trying to remember what it felt like to be held.

Herbs, Onions, The Book Of Proverbs, & Falling In Love

Dorcas Lightfoot was still lying-in from the birth of her fourth child, another boy. She had asked her cousin Florence to help her around the house during the last few weeks waiting for the baby, and the month or so after the birthing. Florence Line Sofie ten Eych, the third daughter of Dorcas’ mother’s brother Jonas ten Eych, had grown up with Dorcas as close as a sister.

Dorcas had met Silas Lightfoot in their late teens, when they were both taking time out of their faith communities to test their own personal soul direction. They had worked together on a temporary famine relief initiative overseas, and by the time the project had run its course, Silas could no longer imagine life without Dorcas, and asked her to be his wife.

She readily assented, and came back to live with him on the hof of the Old Order Forest Kindred of Believers, joyful to be at his side, but profoundly sad to leave behind the community where she was raised and where all her family lived; the Kindred of the Quiet Way.

The Quiet Way had been a last-century offshoot from the Forest Kindred, the result of a falling-out on account of a few loose ends of doctrine that wouldn’t tie up – Hell, the Lord’s Supper, whether a Sister might minister the holy Word, whether a man might grow a beard before he got married or not, and the speed of the sacred hymns – all the usual things. But the Kindred of the Quiet Way were close enough to the Old Order for inter-marriage; they were Plain folk and believers true enough.

Dorcas had shaken down cheerfully into the ways of the Forest Kindred; but even these seven years later she still missed the Quiet Way; and with each babe born seized the chance to invite cousin Florence for the longest stay a new mother could conceivably require.

Silas and Dorcas were squeezed in a bit tight with four little ones now – Silas meant to build on two more bedrooms come the Spring – but Harold Whichart, the Forest Kindred’s Servant of the Light and the Lightfoots’ closest neighbour, offered a bed for Florence while she was over helping out.

Florence was happy with this arrangement. She liked Harriet Whichart, Harold’s wife; and watching their son Andy grow like a bean-stalk into a strapping young troll measured by inches the years that had passed since Dorcas had gone from the Quiet Way.

In thanks for her hospitality, Florence tried while she was with the Forest Kindred to make herself useful in the Whichart household as well as to Dorcas. She sat in the kitchen with Harriet peeling onions, to make chutney and soup with the onions and dye for some fleece with the skins. It was early afternoon; Florence had tidied up for Dorcas and hung a line of washing to air in the yard, set a big pot of stew to simmer for the evening meal, then stepped across the way to spend some time with Harriet while Dorcas and the baby took a nap.

“ I always feel more successful in winter,” said Harriet Whichart with a smile, as she threw another onion skin into the pan.

Florence looked at her, waiting for illumination: “Because of the dark mornings,” added Harriet.

“When Harold and I first got married, my mother gave me a little book about being a godly wife, and it started with that wonderful passage from right at the end of the Book of Proverbs – you know? About the good hausfraa. I learned it off by heart – do you remember it Flo?”

“I’ve read it,” said Florence, “what Sister hasn’t? But I can never remember it all; it’s so long. If you can say it without going to fetch the holy Word, tell me it again.”

Harriet closed her eyes in concentration and frowned slightly, summoning the familiar words to her mind.

“ 'Whoever finds a really good wife has something of more worth than a whole bag of rubies.

Her husband can trust her completely, and so much benefit will come to him from her.

She will never damage him in any way, she’ll be a blessing to him.

She knows how to grade and select good quality wool and flax, and her hands set to work eagerly.

She comes back from market laden with shopping like a merchant ship coming in full sail back to harbour.

She wakes up early and lies there thinking what has to be done, and gets up while it is still dark (that’s the bit that makes me feel successful in winter – the sun is generally up before me on a summer’s day); she provides food for her family, with something nice set aside for the girls who help out around the homestead as well.

She has the judgement and know-how to look over a field and get the purchase sorted – and she thinks ahead so that after she’s bought it she still has enough put by to set the canes and plant and wires for a new vineyard.
She doesn’t slouch around – not she! – but bustles about with a will; she really builds up some muscle doing all the chores around the place!

She keeps an eye on all the household transactions, and in the evening if you see a lamp shining through the window, it’s probably her still looking over the household accounts.

She’s a dab hand with a distaff, and she spins at the speed of light.

But somehow she isn’t too busy for other people: she makes sure there’s something to help out when people are short of money, and she does what she can when folk are struggling.

When the snows come, she doesn’t fret in case her folks are cold – she’s already knitted up scarlet sweaters and hats and mufflers – they can go out and play snowballs wrapped up cosy!

She’s a mistress of the quilter’s art, and she’s all turned out neat and modest herself in the finest homespun – fair linen for her under-things and covering and pinny, and a purple dress: beautiful.

Her husband is held in high esteem at the elder’s meeting, because his household is such an example to the Kindred.

His wife is a good seamstress, and runs up aprons and head-coverings, jumpers and underdresses, selling them on her market stall, plus ties and belts for the English shops, made from the off-cuts.

She is sturdy and modest, someone with real dignity about her; she has a merry, quiet heart because her foresight and capable management have made a bulwark against hard times for all her family.

You want to listen to her, because what she says is wise and worth hearing; what she teaches you is going to be dependable.

She keeps an eye on everything at home, and doesn’t fritter away the entire day chatting over coffee and cake.

Her children think she’s amazing; so does her husband – and he remembers to tell her so!

He says; ‘There are some fab hausfraas on our hof; but, honey, you take the biscuit!’

Cutesy feminine wiles are shallow; prettiness is nice but doesn’t last – the one you’re looking for, the one you should really admire, is the troll who walks in the way of the Lord.

And she should be shown due respect, and someone ought to mention it at the elders’ meeting’.”

Flo listened to this with interest.

“Is that what it really says in the holy Word?” she asked.

“Well – “ Harriet opened her eyes and smiled at her; “I guess I may have tweaked it a bit here and there from just the exact way my mother copied it out of the holy Word into my little book; but yes, if you rightly divide the holy Word, I think you’ll find that’s within a hair of what it’s saying. It’s a high standard by anybody’s reckoning – but always just that tiny bit easier in the winter, I feel – with the few extra hours snuggle-down time before chores have to be started.”

The onions being peeled and chopped, and the skins simmering in a jam-pan on the back of the stove, Harriet asked Florence if she would mind stepping out into the yard to gather some herbs for the chutney “Go wild on the sage,” she said; “I need plenty!”

“Thank you, Flo my honey, you’re a treasure to me! I ‘ll be chopping the apples and grinding the spices while you’re gone. Oh! If while you’re out there Eb Stilleschuyler should come by with the kindling wood he promised me from the pruning, would you thank him kindly for me and ask him in for a cup of Russian tea?”

Promising to deliver this message, Florence set out with her basket to gather the herbs.

She wandered in the yard among the pot-herbs, loving the clean aroma of them that smelt of health and wellbeing. She brushed her hand along the tops of the rosemary and rubbed the lavender leaves in her fingers, picked a tiny sprig of thyme and crushed it under her nose. “Beautiful . . .” she murmured: “beautiful, Gode zij dank.”

Happy, she moved to where the sage bushes grew, vigorous and abundant at this time of year. With the kitchen scissors Harriet had given her, she snipped a generous amount of tops into her basket.

Eb came round the corner of the house into the yard with his sack of kindling wood, split small and chopped into neat lengths just right for starting the stove, to find himself face to face with Florence on her way back to the kitchen, carrying a basket of fresh-gathered herbs and smiling at him.

“God is good!” she greeted him; after the tradition of the Kindred of the Quiet Way.

Eb had met Florence before. People always remembered her, because of her pink hair. It sat a smidgin uneasy with the Plain folk. Blue hair, green hair, black or white; those were the really recollected colours; even red hair or shading out to orange went with the territory of all that it meant to be Plain: but, pink hair! There was something innately, undeniably, irrepressibly frivolous about pink hair. Pink hair had something incontrovertibly fancy about it, no matter how wise and sober the head it grew upon. Florence’s mother never told her so, but she thanked God in her private prayers that none of her sons had grown up with pink hair. You often got crazy colours in a baby, of course; that was only natural until they got some sound discipleship inside their heads – but though the red stayed red, you could hope the magenta might deepen to black and the cerise to purple as the child grew. Florence’s had stayed pink. Folks did wonder if that said something about her.

Eb stopped in his tracks. He recalled that this must be Dorcas Lightfoot’s cousin come for the birthing of the little one. He had seen Florence before when the Kindred gathered in the praise meeting, at those times when she’d visited in previous years for the same purpose; but she had sat with the sisters – they had never spoken.

A nice, neat girl – though her hair was a bit fancy, even and she couldn’t help it; not only the pink but it grew a little fancy-free withal. Eb couldn’t help noticing this; but he allowed no-one can help the colour of her hair. If ‘twas fancy, well it was fancy then in the Lord – since it was done of the Lord’s hand and none of her making (you had to wonder about the Lord at times, it would seem).

This was the longest Eb had stopped to ponder any troll’s hair in the whole of his life. Fancy hair, but plain heart he trusted; and anyway, he thought it looked quite pretty.

Florence was watching him. She felt self-conscious about her hair, and knew he was looking at it. She felt it might help to distract him.

“Eb? You are Eb? Well, I am Flo,” she said, laughing; and that made him look, as what she said to him sank in. The Lord had spoken – they were made for one another.

He smiled, she smiled, and a little effervescence of giggles rose up in her; he saw the laughter dance in merriment in her eyes – and quite suddenly, taken all of a startlement, so much that for one second he could hardly breathe, Eb knew himself utterly in love. A feeling like nothing he had ever experienced came over him. Suddenly his throat constricted and he could feel his own heart beat. In an overflowing confusion of gladness, Eb was glad above all of one thing: nobody but Flo was there to see him fall so consummately.

Florence saw what had happened. She was the child of an eldress, and she had the Seeing. For an instant, her insight perceived the rhythm of the blood and bone of the two of them, and she saw that their hearts beat as one. In general, that would be. Just now, Eb’s was going a bit quick.

“Mother Whichart says,” (Florence’s eyes were sparkling at him happily) “will you like to step in for a cup of spice tea?”

Eb nodded. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. He felt joy rising up inside him until he thought his chest might burst.

“Yes please,” he said.

'Oh my!' thought Harriet, glancing up with a smile of welcome as the two of them wafted through her kitchen door in a glorious fragrance of herbs: 'Eb Stilleschuyler, when you fall it’s plain to see, you do fall hard!'

Eb Goes To See The Servant Of The Light

Most of the houses on the hof had enough bedrooms for the people who lived in them to share comfortably, and a family room with a stove and cupboards, a table and chairs. They had porches to sit out in the summer and keep boots dry on rainy days, and sometimes a room out back for tools and other necessary implements, and for shelves to store jam and salted beans, nuts and dried fruit through the winter.

The home of the Servant of the Light had an extra room, a Quiet Place where the Servant could meet and talk with those who were troubled, or sought his good counsel; who needed somewhere private to sit with him and pray.

Harold Whichart sat there now. He had spent the day doing what he liked best, looking over his sheep out on the hilltop pasture, walking among them, talking to them, touching each one as he inspected them carefully for any sign of lameness, any fast-adhering brambles or signs of injury.

He had come home at sunset, walked in at dusk to the wonderful welcoming aroma of a suet pudding filled with bacon, cheese, fried onions and sage, blessed God once again for a wife who could cook as Harriet did, eaten a hearty supper, shared in washing and drying the pots, and gone to the Quiet Place to centre himself into the loving presence of the Lord.

For about half an hour now, he had been reading in the holy Word and resting in prayer as he sought the mind of God. Harold was expecting a visitor.

Eventually he heard Harriet answering the door “Wilkum! You will find Father Harold in the Quiet Place – he is waiting for you. I have some cookies and a drink for you here when you’ve finished your chat.”

He had left the door to the Quiet Place ajar, and Eb knocked gently, pushed it open, and came in.

“Peace to you,” said Harold immediately; he could see the little shimmer of trepidation and concern around the edges of Eb’s being. “Sit you down, my brother. Tell me your news.”

Eb settled himself in the second chair drawn up beside the table where the holy Word lay. All conversations that took place in this room were an invitation for the Word to become flesh; for something of God’s holy breath to incarnate in honest words spoken, in the listening heart, in wise understanding and, when it was needed, in assurance of forgiveness, the chance to make amends and a new beginning.

“How can I serve you, my friend?”

Eb loved Harold’s deep voice: in fact, he loved Harold. For the whole of Eb's life, Harold had been the Servant of the Light of this gathering of the Old Order Forest Kindred of Believers. Eb couldn’t imagine anybody else holding that trust, or administering its duties with such strength and kindness.

“I want to get married,” Eb answered.

He clasped his hands on the table in front of him, clasped them tight together. He felt suddenly immensely shy, and glanced quickly at Harold, hoping that his simple statement would suffice to get the conversation started.

Harold waited a moment longer, but felt Eb’s anxiety, saw the whiteness of the knuckles in his clasped hands. He put out his own hand, and just rested it a moment on Eb’s hands. “Peace:” he repeated his greeting; it found Eb, who relaxed a fraction.

“Have you – is there – do you have anyone in particular in mind?” Harold asked. He had thought Eb must be lonely, living all by himself in the cottage on the edge of the wood; but everyone knew Eb was a man of sober life, not one to spend his hours hanging around the Sisters. There had been no sign or rumour of a courtship developing. There had been no word of anyone planting extra celery for a Spring wedding.

“Florence,” said Eb.
The Servant of the Light gave no sign of surprise; but Eb felt the momentary stillness of the unexpected as Harold took this in.

“You want to marry Florence?” (obviously this was so, but Harold thought a little extra illumination on the matter might be helpful)

“Yes,” said Eb.

Florence came as a welcome guest to Harold's house. He knew her as Dorcas’ cousin, and he knew Dorcas had come from the Quiet Way – indeed he had met her family at the time of her marriage to Silas, and had some idea therefore of Florence’s connections. Even so, he felt he knew Florence herself hardly at all. In previous visits she had stayed in her cousin’s house, and even now that she was under his roof, Harold saw little of her, because in the evenings Dorcas needed her for the evening meal and the little ones’ bedtime stories. He also couldn’t really think many opportunities had passed for Florence to be in Eb’s company. Frankly, Harold felt slightly bewildered by this request.

"Eb – brother – " the Servant picked his words cautiously. With all his heart it would rejoice him to see Eb settled with a helpmeet of his own – not least because the Kindred was short an Elder, and after leaving a year’s peace for the couple to become one and make their home together, there could be nobody he would rather propose to the Kindred than Brother Ebenezer Stilleschuyler. Yet marriage must never be merely expedient; Harold thought there were some questions he must ask, without letting his mind run too far down the track of helpful possibilities. He looked Eb in the eye, wisdom to wisdom they saw each other.

The Servant searched Eb’s eyes by the Light vested in him, and he saw Eb’s simplicity, his steadiness; saw his quiet mind and trustworthy soul. Then he saw also something new; heart’s longing – not the hot desire of a troll who wants his own way and means to get it, but an unproclaimed undisguisable yearning. ‘Please let me have this,’ said the the soul in Eb’s eyes to the soul of the Servant of the Light: yet notwithstanding, there truly were questions to be asked. Marriage is a holy thing among the Old Order Forest Kindred of Believers, and not to be frivolously undertaken.

"Since how long has thee known this troll, Eb?" asked the Servant, his voice gentle, slipping into the old way of address that he knew would speak deep to Eb’s soul.

Eb looked steadfastly back at him.

"A week and three days ago, right after snack-time in the afternoon," he replied.

The Servant’s kindly face creased in a smile. " ‘Tis exact," he conceded, "but not very long."

Eb nodded. "I know."

"Thee know well her family?" the Servant enquired. "Has she been raised under the Light? Is she familiar with the ways of righteousness and the word of truth? Has she been taught faith?"

Eb considered these questions. He did not answer at once. The Servant waited.

"Her family are all Quiet Way folk from Arundel County," came the eventual reply. "I have never set eyes on them. But a troll that’s not raised right won’t dress as modest and neat as Florence. She’s cousin to Dorcas Lightfoot, as you know. I think a troll like Dorcas won’t ask another to be with her in the moment a child comes bearing new Light into the world, unless she feels comfortable that chosen other can be trusted with what’s sacred. The time of birth is a place where earth and heaven open to each other; Dorcas will have advisedly made her choice of witness to the passageway through."

Eb stopped. He wasn’t accustomed to speaking at such length. Most days of the week he said things like ‘Whoa, easy’ (to his team of plough horses), or ‘I’ll make a mortice and tenon joint for that and it’ll hold up good.’ This felt more demanding. He was aware he’d left something big unsaid. The Servant waited patiently while Eb searched his heart; and then he found what he wanted to say.

"There is something –" and now suddenly he heard how this was going to sound in the ears of another. He recognised that he was going to sound as daft as a teenager struck silly with infatuation; and his face burned, but still he pressed on.

"There is something in the way she smiles; so bright, so sweet. She has such gladness about her…eagerness. It lifts my heart, it calls me out to laugh in delight when she smiles at me. I can’t help loving her. And I don’t believe my heart would deceive me; I don’t think she’d rejoice me so if she wasn’t good."

The Servant of the Light was regarding him with a certain degree of amusement; but Eb held his gaze steady in return. Stubborn might almost be a better word than steady, the Servant thought. He still had questions.

"Brother Eb, you must know how that sounds."

Eb nodded.

"Can she cook? Will she keep your house neat? Can she tend the fowls? Will she wisely handle the things of this world in trading and keeping account? What of her seamstress skills? Can she make and mend? How is she with little ones? Brother, have you looked to these matters? Marriage is a lengthy business, and the pair of you will do many a thing more than look into each other’s eyes and smile."

He did his level best to infuse his voice with a blend of the stern and the quietly reasonable. He noted that Eb was listening to him carefully, and he honoured that, because by the Light that was in him, he could see the troll before him to have had the layers of the onion peeled away to the bit near to the core rarely seen, a small boy who wanted something quite desperately, more than stern reason could touch. But still Eb was listening.

‘Silas seems content to trust his family into her care,’ he began, hesitant in his scanty background of information, but valiant in his defence of the troll. ‘She comes forth of a morning neat and trim as ever you saw, and she shepherds the little ones with skill… She… Oh! Look, this is useless! The frank truth is I don’t know and I don’t much care. I just love her because she answers my heart’s yearning and that’s all I know for sure and I’m asking your blessing to marry her because I’m head over heels in love.’

Harold sat beholding Eb a short while longer. He didn’t wish to intimidate, but he gave himself a minute for the Light within him to enter by Eb’s eyes and search as far as he could see. In so doing, he felt a sense of rebuke – he had never noticed until this minute the extent of the agony of loneliness Eb had borne. Harold sighed. Once you have seen your own sin, it is hard to search beyond it, for it blocks the shining of the Light til it is forgiven.

“Will you seek the Lord with me?” he asked Eb, who nodded: they sat quietly, and bowed their heads in prayer.

“Holy God, holy and wise, holy and strong, holy and eternal, have mercy upon us,” Harold said quietly; and Eb felt the words arise like the smoke of incense, unhurried, sure, arriving at Heaven in peace.

“Show us Thy Way, dear blessed Lord God,” Harold prayed. “Forgive me my sin, my blindness; that I have never seen til now how torn with loneliness has been this child of Thine. Tend to his heart, physician of all our sorrow – heal where it has been broken. Come, Christ the healer, and place Thy hands where my prayers beckon.”

He let the weight of silence rest kindly upon them, the hands of God about their work of peace; and when he judged it complete, he continued:

“Now, Holy Wisdom, speak Thy mind to us. If my brother takes this sister to his side, it will be for ever: let us not stray out of Thy will for this thing. Let us not miss Thy best for him. Where we cannot see to go, take us by the hand and lead us. Holy wisdom, I am pleading for Thy light.”

Eb stirred. Harold opened his eyes and looked at him, sensing words that wanted to be said.

Eb didn’t raise his head, nor his voice much, so Harold was put to it to catch the words he spoke – but he did hear.

“I didn’t say before, because it sounds so silly,” Eb muttered. “It’s that ….”

Harold waited.

“I am Eb, and she is Flo. And so long I have waited for a sign.”

The ways of God are very, very peculiar at times: but Harold was used to trusting, and used to reading the signs that life leaves wisely by the path.

And by the Light that guided his looking, the Servant of the Light gave his blessing; he thought if he didn’t Eb’s mother would likely never forgive him. One way to discern that a thing is of God is in perceiving there is simply no way round it. For when God says a thing is so, it is so. And this in Eb’s heart looked as ‘so’ as anything the Servant had ever clapped eyes on before.

Right heartily the Servant of the Light gave his blessing. They were obviously made for one another.

Waking, Sleepy, Sleeping, Wakeful

As he walked away from the Whicharts’ house, comfortably full of newly baked cookies and spice tea, Eb felt his heart light and joyous. Happiness fizzed inside him with an altogether unfamiliar intoxication.

As he approached his own cottage, still and quiet in the darkness under the trees, of their own selves his feet executed a little improvised dance.

Humming to himself the jauntiest hymn tune he could think of, Eb pulled off his boots in the porch and went into his house with its good smells of wood-smoke and herbs.

It was not until he had burrowed down under his quilt into bed and lay there curled tight and shivering in the uncompromising chill of the night, waiting for his body warmth to ease the situation, that he had a sudden appalling thought. It made him feel quite sick.

Florence would see Harold and Harriet before he did – when she came in from the Lightfoots’ house, and when she rose for breakfast in the morning. Harold and Harriet would extend to her their smiling congratulations. Eb had neglected to mention to Harold that he had come to ask the blessing of the Servant of the Light first; to ascertain whether he might proceed with the courting of a Sister from beyond their community. He hadn’t actually mentioned anything about it to Florence, whom he had known, after all, for only a week and three days.

It was true that in the course of that week all kinds of minor errands had redirected Eb’s ways to Dorcas’ home; and it was surprising how necessary it had become to go on by Harriet’s place if Dorcas happened to mention that Florence had gone along there (as she obligingly did, for Dorcas was an observant and intelligent troll and took a shrewd guess at the nature of Eb’s sudden interest in her household – given the extra sparkle she had noticed in Florence’s eye). Florence had seen quite a lot of Eb over the last few days: but possibly not enough to prepare her for congratulations on the happy event of her forthcoming marriage.

In an instant, all Eb’s joy was snuffed out like a candle. He lay shivering in his freezing cold bed, wretchedly dismissing every possibility that came to mind: to rush over first thing in the morning and – no, they would already have seen her tonight; to get up again now and go back to – no, they would be in bed and astonished to be disturbed again; to – no, there was no other possibility.

Eb did not swear, and he did not despair; he didn’t sleep either. It was cold all night long.

Anyone called to become a Servant of the Light must have certain essential qualities. He must be humble and wise, he must know the holy Word through and through, and it must shine not only in his mind but in his life. He must be sober and frugal, industrious, quiet in his ways; not hasty but patient and willing to hear other perspectives than his own. He must understand clearly that adverse circumstances are changeable weather to be addressed by abiding faith; so that his first instinct in any drama that unfolds is never panic or argument, but prayer. His household must be a place of healing and heartfelt hospitality; orderly and calm – the sort of place where folks feel their tensions sigh out of them as they step into the welcome of its peace. His wife must be a true believer, and her life must bear and reveal the Light as surely as his. His children must be serious and gentle, bearing and following the Light as they travel the Way with him.

With all this, the Servant of Light is essentially distinguished by a further quality; he must be absolutely discreet. He will hear the confidences of others, see their tears, hear their broken confessions, know their sins and their failures and doubts. Both he and his household must learn to carry the knowledge as though it had never been. Many a pastoral conundrum had Harold discussed with Harriet in the privacy of their bedchamber when all the hof had retired for the night; many more he had kept entirely to himself.

Eb had said nothing further about Florence after his time closeted with Harold, had eaten cheerfully the cookies Harriet had provided and gone his way with a merry step into the night. Harriet did not ask: but Harold wanted her counsel.

They moved quietly about their family room, doing the last chores of the day, and Harold brought the holy Word out of the quiet place, laying it on the kitchen table to finish the evening in its wise light. He paused in turning the pages, and asked Harriet: “How do you find Florence?”

“How do I find Florence?” Harriet echoed, as she took off her apron and hung it on the hook behind the door. “Easily. With no difficulty at all. Think pink.”

Harold grinned. “No! Really? And when you’ve found her – how do you find her then?”

Harriet laughed. “Oh, she’s a sweetie Harold. If you’re wondering will she do for Eb Stilleschuyler I should say ‘yes’ and ‘amen’ and ‘yes’ again. Florence is a darling; she’s modest and hardworking, she’s gentle; and plus she’s got her head screwed on right. There are no flies on Florence. She’ll do fine. Eb couldn’t have a better wife.”

Harold nodded. “Thank goodness. On the basis of far too little acquaintance, I just blessed his choice.”

Harriet smiled contentedly. “Then I am right glad. It will be well, I have no doubt.”

In the Lightfoot household, a certain scrap of blanket had gone missing in the course of the day from the possession of one of the children.

Darkness had settled on the yard, and though Florence searched with a lantern, it was nowhere to be found. Assurances that daylight would discover it and put all to rights brought no comfort. Without this beloved scrap of blanket, the child was inconsolable. Dorcas was gently pacing the family room, singing quiet lullabies to a wakeful baby, its beady eyes wide open and fixed on the lamp’s peaceful light. Silas was falling asleep where he sat, dog-tired after a day’s carpentry.

Florence sat and rocked the little one weeping for her blanket scrap, made up stories of its possible adventures, offered her kerchief, her shawl, her kapp as possible alternatives til it be found. To no avail, but eventually the sobs died away to sniffs and hiccups and the small troll’s eyes closed. . . opened . . . closed . . opened , swimming in drowsiness. . . and closed as with a last sniff and shudder the little body gave way to sleep.

Florence carried the child to the cot Silas had made, bedded her down tenderly, tucking the soft quilt around to keep every breath of cold away, and tiptoed back to the family room where Silas was fast asleep in his chair and Dorcas still trod patiently the length of the room. She paused her singing. “See you in the morning,” she whispered. Flo nodded, and let herself out.

It was late by the time she stepped into the Whicharts’ house; they were both long gone to bed. Florence was exhausted. She dropped her clothes on the floor in a heap, dragged on her nightgown, stood one moment with hands folded and eyes closed to give thanks and to seek God’s blessing on her sleeping, her waking, the work of her hands this day, Dorcas and family (bless them with sound sleep this night), her own kindred back home, Harold and Harriet, all those who watch and wait and cannot sleep this night, the dying and those who grieve, every child born this night . . . and . . . please; bless Eb Stilleschuyler.

Then she sank into her bed, touched and grateful to find it warmed ready for her by a hot water bottle in a flannel cover. Flo was asleep after a mere minute snuggling cosy down into the warmth, feeling well satisfied – it had been a good day. She slept soundly til well after sun-up, when she emerged into the family room in her nightdress.

“Harriet! Why didn’t you wake me! Poor Dorcas! Heavens! All she has to do!”

Harriet smiled at her. “Florence, I think you have earned your sleep. Get a wash and dress yourself, tidy your hair. I’ll make you a bowl of porridge. There’s hot water here for you to wash – mind how you go with that jug, it’s massive! Don’t you fret about Dorcas. As it happens – I can’t think why – Eb Stilleschuyler dropped by, the sun barely over the rim of the world. I thought he might as well make himself useful, so I sent him along to Dorcas to help out with the children. Good practice for him, I thought.”

“Oh, thank goodness! Thank you, Harriet, thank you so much!”

Relieved, Florence turned back towards the bedroom with the jug of water Harriet handed her. She paused, suddenly. “Practice for what?” she said.

Harriet’s eyes barely flickered. She shrugged, carelessly.

“Oh, just for life and times,” she said, giving the pot of porridge a stir. “It does a Brother no harm to learn the ways of little ones. After all, you never know. Make haste, then, and get ready for the day. I think he’ll be back again presently.”

Florence Gets Up Late

“D’you know, I’ve not seen Dorcas in an age,” said Harriet, as she sat at the table peeling vegetables while Florence ate her porridge.

“I think what I’ll do is take these vegetables over to her along with some herbs, so she has them ready for the family meal, and stay a while to help her with the chores. You could have a morning off, Florence.”

Florence looked puzzled. “What would I do with a morning off?” she asked.

“Well . . . maybe something will come along. You could read a little, or maybe you have some stitching to do.”

“I didn’t bring any sewing,” said Florence, “because I came to help Dorcas. I guess I’ll walk across with you, and – ”
Somebody knocked at the back door; quite a timid knock, it sounded; not entirely sure of itself.
Florence jumped to her feet, crossed the kitchen and opened the back door. “Oh! Eb, it’s you! My, you’re about early today. Come on in: I believe I owe you a big ‘thank you’ for helping out at Dorcas’ place this morning. I was all dormouse when you came by. We’ve some coffee on the stove here still hot, Eb. Shall I pour you some?”

“Danki, I’d love some. “ He kicked off his boots and came in to the kitchen.

Harriet smiled at him as she swept her vegetable peelings off the board into the bucket, and gathered up the chopped carrots, parsnips, squash and sweet potato into a cookpot to carry across to Dorcas. “I’m fetching herbs to add to these and then I’m gone,” she said. “Enjoy your coffee and, mind Florence, this morning is a holiday! You’re a hard-working troll and we don’t want you worn out too early on in life! ”

She slipped on the pair of leather clogs by the kitchen door, and set off purposefully, leaving Eb and Florence to their own devices.

Flo brought them both a big mug of steaming coffee, set Eb’s down before him and carried her own to a seat at a modest distance along the big table – but not too far away.

“Smells good,” said Eb. He drew breath to speak then, and Florence looked at him enquiringly. His own gaze was riveted down to his hands, folded before him on the table.

“Flo,” he said; stopped. She waited. “Yes?”

“Flo, may I call on you? Will you walk out with me?”

He would not, could not, look at her. She beheld his absolute stillness, the set of his mouth that showed her how much this mattered to him; and she knew herself loved.

“Eb, gladly,” she answered him. For a moment his breath came in and out shaky, in relief of tension, and in the joy of her answer. Then he grinned at her, speechless, and she laughed to see the shining delight in his eyes.

“I’m under strict instructions of a morning off,” she said. “We can go for a walk now when we’ve finished our coffee, unless you’re wanted on the hof?”

Eb shook his head. “There’s work to be done, but nothing that won’t keep an hour or two. I think you’ve never seen my cottage. Shall we go up there, and maybe have a wander along one of the woodland tracks?”

The door from his porch opened into the main room of Eb’s house, a simple family room and kitchen. Small, square windows looked out across the woods and fields and the little yard around the house, where like every troll, Eb grew a fragrant and comfortably random cluster of lavender, sage, rosemary, marjoram, oregano and thyme. Florence put her hands on the edge of the table that stood below the window, leaning forward to gaze out over the dale clothed in birch and beech and oak forest, broken by green spaces of meadowland. It curved down from the homestead, lovely in the afternoon light. “It’s so beautiful,” she said.

Jah. I bring my pots and bits to wash up after I’ve eaten, to that table. I like to stand there and look across the valley. When the dusk comes, you can see the lights from the houses of the kindred begin to shine here and there, and hear Silas calling the cows in to milking – well, you know; you’ve been living along the track for almost two months. I’m just saying, it’s beautiful to me also; I never get tired of it.”

Florence turned from the window, and her bright glance missed nothing in the room. The shelf for the candlestick and the book of the holy Word; a few pots and things – not many, for Eb’s needs were uncomplicated, living alone. His boots by the door. A broom propped against the wall, and a wash tub and bucket and such hanging tidy from nails in the wall.

Some dried herbs hung from the rafters, and clusters of onions, garlic and sausages; but not hams, because Eb had felt it pointless to go to the trouble of cooking a ham for himself. Still, Florence saw spice jars on the shelves, and all the usual jars of butter beans and lentils, raisins and nuts, flour and molasses sugar, and the dried apples without which no troll could call a place home.

The fireplace, Florence noted with approval, was a capacious affair. Within the hearth, toasting forks and a chestnut roaster, the work of a capable smith, hung from nails. Three baskets ranged against the wall there held pinecones, neat-chopped kindling sticks and split logs. The door to the firebox of the black stove stood open, and she saw that Eb had laid his kindling ready for the evening. He had a low couch with cushions near to the fire, for he liked to sit soft in the evening time, warm by the stove.

Finally, Flo looked at the well-scrubbed table with two chairs drawn up to it. A pot of meadow-flowers stood on the table. Flo smiled.

“There’s not many bachelor households where you’d see flowers on the table,” she said.

Eb nodded. He said nothing for a moment, then confessed “Nay, nor this one. Sarah Mueller comes in to do for me while I’m out working on the hof during the day. She spruces it all up real pretty, and she often leaves flowers there on the table.”

Flo’s smile widened “You do need looking after, then?”

“Looking after?” Eb gazed at her, speechless. He hardly knew how to put this. “Flo I’m desperate for someone to look after me. I can manage by myself, it isn’t difficult to live simple and live alone. What’s to do but organise some bread and cheese and sit down with a book by the fire? But I – “

He couldn’t say this and look at her. He turned away and gazed out of the window across the hof. “I want someone who will be pleased to see me when I come home. I want to wake up in the morning and not always be alone.”

He took a deep breath. “Actually, Flo, I want you here. I’m sorry, I know this is meant to string out along two or three months but – from the minute I saw you . . . Flo, will you be with me? Will you be my helpmeet, my wife? Do you want me?”

He stood with his back to her, his head bent. He wouldn't look.

Florence crept up alongside him, and touched her fingertips gentle to his arm. “I will be your wife,” she said: “I will be here; and times when I must be away to my family or such, I will leave you a smile and the scent of lavender. You won’t be alone any more.”

For one awful moment Eb thought he was going to cry. He turned his face away from her abruptly, and swallowed.

“Let me show you the rest of the house,” he said firmly. “Um – thank you,” he added: “thank you. It’s what I want above all, but it finds me a bit wobbly to talk about how dreadfully lonely it’s – I’ve – been.”

She knew. She saw.

Eb led her through into the bedchamber, which had (much as she expected) a bed with a bright quilt, a night-stand alongside with its little cupboard for the chamber pot, and a second recess for books and handkerchiefs under the lamp-shelf. A chest for his clothes. A small mirror in a wood frame on the wall, to check he was all tidy.

“Do you like it,” Eb asked, in the voice of someone who really wanted to know. He stood anxiously awaiting her verdict.

“It feels like home already.” Florence smiled at him. “I shall be happy here. I think we may need some curtains, is all. I could make us some yellow gingham ones if you would like.”

Anxious less she sounded critical, she hurried on “but it’s fine as it is!

“Your bed looks cosy,” she added; then stopped, aghast at how forward such a remark might sound. But he was laughing at her: “Jah, it is,” he said, but sometimes a bit solitary and cold.”

“Don’t you have a hot water bottle?” Florence responded in sudden concern – which made him laugh even more. “Jah, I do Flo, though I can’t always be bothered to fill it – but, I’d rather have you to keep me warm.”

Flo nodded. They were not wed yet. She was not sure about this conversation taking place in his bedroom. He saw the hesitation of her sense of modesty, and liked it.

“Well; I will,” she answered him firmly, and turned back into his living room.

He followed her, and they regarded each other for a moment in silence.

“I spoke to Harold last night.” Flo saw something like a plea in his eyes. “He gave his blessing, that I might court you. I – Flo I am an honourable troll. But if I might – oh just for a moment – please – if I might hold you in my arms. Not to offend against purity, nor to rush what isn’t yet ours to take; just to hold you, Flo.”

She nodded, shy, and he stepped across the room to her; gently, gently took her into his embrace. In silence they stood; he with his arms about her, resting his cheek on her pink hair. “Flo,” he whispered, cradling her; “Flo I love thee so”.

“As I do thee.”

All of him wanted to kiss her brow, kiss her cheek, find her mouth with his mouth, cover her in a passion of kisses.

“Flo,” he said softly; “do you want me as I want thee?”

“Need you ask it?” her reply was little more than a murmur. “Yes, Eb; I do.”

He thought he’d better let her go; and found resolve somehow to move on from this embrace. He stood back from her, his hands on her shoulders, his eyes beseeching hers.

“Flo, can we get married quite quick?”

And now she was laughing at him. “Ardour!” she smiled. “Oh, my!

“First things, first, Eb. Your mother. My mother. We must give them both a little time to plan and enjoy. Your father is passed on, Dorcas told me. Mine is also. Eb, let’s not rush this. We shall have years and years and years, God willing, to enjoy each other’s embrace. Let’s enjoy this blossom time, for it’s so fleeting. Take a moment to get to know each other, discover who we are as well as recognising we are meant to be together.”

He was nodding his assent, but she read a certain desperation in his look, and smiled at him.

“Not too long Eb. Only just long enough. Now, come – let’s take our walk up through the wood. There can’t be so much time left before we have to go back. I want to know you; what your thoughts are, how you see things, who you are.”

A Walk And A Conversation

They walked Indian file down the narrow woodland track, dodging the brambles and the mud puddles that spread across the way.

Eventually they came to a sunny clearing where some trees had been felled, and sat down together on a tree trunk to talk and get their breath again.

For a moment or two, they just sat in silence, content to be together, taking in the new configuration of the relationship they had entered, exploring the sense of something momentous beginning.

Flo became aware of Eb looking at her hair, glinting brilliantly in the sunshine. She felt immediately slightly defensive. This was a sensitive subject for her, and something she had never quite come to terms with. Everyone else in her family had started life with pink hair too, but theirs had all calmed down to blue, or at least purple, as they grew. Only hers had stayed pink, and she knew that, among the Kindred of the Quiet Way, it created the faintest hint of a question-mark over her mother’s credibility as an eldress – a daughter, full-grown, with pink hair!

Nobody ever said it, in so many words, but she knew.

“I know my hair is fancy,” Florence admitted, breaking the silence between them.”‘It just grows that way, there’s nothing I can do. It’s how I am – there must be something a little fancy in my DNA.”

Eb jumped. “In your what?”

“My DNA.” Florence smiled.” Deoxyribonucleic acid. The story of my making.”

Eb looked at her cautiously, setting aside for the moment that very long word. “In the story of your making? You think you may have something fancy right down in your roots?”

Florence looked right back at him. “Well ‘tis there to the roots of my hair, sure enough. And my mother says my smile is plain and fancy all at once; and she’s an eldress, so she can See.”

Eb’s jaw dropped slightly. “Did you say your mother is an eldress?” All of a sudden, the first glimmerings of what it meant to make his choice outside his own community began to make themselves apparent to him.

Florence nodded. Eb detected something challenging in her gaze. “She is.”

Nodding thoughtfully, willing to be open-minded, Eb volunteered “It’s just we don’t have any eldresses here.”

Florence knew this.”Nor we don’t have many,” she offered understandingly, not wishing to be contentious: “but my mother is a Seer and the Moot would not gainsay it. ‘Tis against the holy Word to quench the Light. Where grace is given, ‘tis discourtesy to God to deny.”

Eb digested this. As far as he knew, they didn’t exactly have Seers in the Old Order Forest Kindred either. He turned it round in his mind, and thought about it. It was true, he supposed, that Harold, and many chosen to be elders – and others for that matter – could See. Maybe it was a matter of words; what each Kindred chose, or chose not, to express. “‘I guess here we reverence tradition,” he said.

“As do we;” rejoindered Florence stoutly, braced against the implications of his silence: “but not above the free Spirit of God.”

In the silence that followed, she stood up. “Shall we walk a bit further, then?”

She smiled at him, and Eb, looking up into her smile thought her mother might be right. He could see her light right enough, and it shone plain and pure, but it had a sort of scintillation to it too. What worried him, if he was honest, was that the sparkle was undeniably the bit he liked best of all. The fancy part.

As they walked on, Flo continued to fret over the pink, and exclaimed suddenly, passionately “My hair! Sometimes I think I should scratch it back tight, braided and coiled, under a cap with a poke and sides, where it can’t be seen, as the Plain women among the humans do! Then no-one could see it and that would be an end to the matter, so there!”

Taken aback, and unsure how to respond, Eb searched for an answer as they went further in silence. More dejectedly, Florence added, “But I asked my mother, and she said not to do that.

‘‘ ‘Twill only draw attention to yourself, Flo,’ she told me. And besides, it would be against the holy Word isn’t it? The part where Apostle Peter says let not your adorning be the plaiting of the hair, or the putting on of gold and apparel and where Apostle Paul says to Brother Timothy that trolls are to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes – although” Florence faltered and Eb sensed her spirit droop a little inside, as she stopped walking, and stood quite still for a moment; “I do like pearls,” she whispered, “even if ‘tis a sin.”

“Anyway;” Florence straightened and set off again, glancing at him with renewed determination in her eye, “I know that anybody who rightly divides the holy Word could see that though we may wear a covering, the Apostle teaches that a troll’s hair is likewise to be for her covering, for if a troll has long hair, it is a glory to her: her hair is given her for a covering – ‘tis not to be all tangled up in a knot and hid up out of sight like she was bald.”

Florence halted again, looking to Eb for encouragement and affirmation. He was listening to her carefully.

“Well,” he said doubtfully, seeing a response was required, sensing how much the whole business disturbed her. He reached out his hand and just lightly touched her cheek, to remind her that she was loved, and bring her back from the embattled place she had fallen into: “I think we may not judge what the Plain women do, the humans, for it isn’t easy, is it, always to rightly divide the holy Word so as to cut through to the truth of a matter.”

Flo looked at him, and he saw clouds in her eyes. Obviously this was an issue that worried her. Since they were in the woods, with no-one else to see, though he knew it was unorthodox and more intimate than was wise, he took her hand as they walked on together. He felt the warm flow of their souls pass from hand to hand, and it made him catch his breath for sheer delight. Eb paused and looked at her “Flo, I love you, I love you,” he said. She smiled, and the clouds lifted. Still she did not slip her hand out of his hand. Along this part of the track, broad enough for wagons, so the both of them could walk side by side, they continued together.

“That is what the Apostle says,” said Eb, going back to the subject of their conversation, “and he was a righteous man who lived in fear of the Lord and brought salvation to many and preached like a good’n – and Flo far be it from me to criticise him. But, in the same place he says a troll’s hair is her glory, given by the Lord for her covering, he also says a mighty odd thing, which I have often pondered and never understood. He says – and he’s talking about men here, for the Apostle was human and frankly he didn’t really concern himself much with trolls, it’s only our translation that put in ‘troll’ where the Apostle says ‘woman’ – or more generally ‘man’– to spare our feelings. Anyway, he says ‘Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?’

“And, Flo, what do you make of that? For if you leave God alone with a troll male or female, or with a man or a woman either for that matter, he or she will either grow long hair or be bald. You get bald men, you get bald women. I admit I never yet seen a bald troll, but it may be. All things being equal, if they be not bald, then their hair grows long – man, woman or troll. Nature teaches nothing of shame or disgrace, nature certainly teaches you nothing along the lines of a woman should have more hair than a man: quite the opposite; for most men – and ‘tis the same among trolls – can grow a finer beard than most women (not all, I grant you, but most). Seems to me when the holy Apostle came along with his teaching and his scissors, he may have given the good Lord something of a surprise. But I never liked to mention this in the meeting; the Kindred always seemed so very sure.”

Florence listened intently, a little thinking frown on her face, to this radical and unconventional dividing of the holy Word. She glanced up to see if Eb had further points to make. He cleared his throat.

“Just one more thing.” Eb spoke soft, a bit uncertain of himself, unsure if what he had to say came within the proper bounds of masculine modesty. “I do love your hair, Flo. I really do. I think it’s ever so pretty.”

But when he looked at her, he felt glad he had said it. The look on her face was like seeing the sun come out. It was all he could do not to take her in his arms and kiss her, and kiss her, and kiss her again. He lifted her hand in his hand and just touched it to his lips.

“I guess we better head back,” he said.

Wearing Hats And Holding Hands

“Careful of your dress on the brambles – hang on, you’re caught up.” Eb stooped to free the fabric from the thorns. “It’s a pretty dress,” he said, as he straightened up. “ ‘Twould be a shame to tear it.”

It was in reality the plainest ash grey dress imaginable, except for a neat little white collar; it became her well, but the reality was that in Eb’s eyes what made the dress pretty was basically Flo.
Flustered by the compliment, which drew attention to her appearance in a manner most uncomfortable for a Plain troll, Flo evaded it, saying, “It shouldn’t have a collar like that really, but my mother made a mistake in the edge of the neck when she was sewing it. She thought of putting the collar on to cover it up, so it wouldn’t show.”

“Your mother made a mistake?” Eb feigned astonishment. “And she an eldress? Wisdom slipped?”

He was only teasing, but as soon as the words were out, he wished he hadn’t said it. A shadow passed over Florence’s face, as if she had had to be patient about this many times. Eb realised it must be lonely sometimes, among Plain folk, being an eldress.

“I’m so sorry, Flo” he said quickly, seriously. “It was meant to be a joke.”

He stepped round in front of her, to face her on the path. “Flo?” he said; “I’m sorry.”

She shook her head, smiling at him. “Well, you are forgiven” – and she reached up and kissed him on the nose.

For this last stretch of the track that wound through the privacy of the trees, he wanted to take her hand again; but it was too narrow to walk alongside together. Eb felt deeply disappointed about this. He didn’t want the walk to end. He didn’t feel ready to go back to the hof and muck out chickens. He wanted to stay with her.

“Sit down a minute,” he said as they reached again the clearing where the trees had been felled.

They sat on their tree-trunk as before, and he felt her fingers just touch his wrist, moved his hand to cover hers, and stayed for a moment with the odd mixture of gladness and longing that had so entirely engulfed his soul.

He turned his head and looked at her; took in the sweet seriousness and softness of her face under its cloud of pink hair and white kapp. A question came into his mind.

“This isn’t to pick a fight, Flo.” There was something he wanted to know, but after his previous blunder he felt he must go cautiously. “I’m not looking to begin an argument. It’s an honest question.”

“Glory! That sounds ominous!” Flo turned to look at him, squinting against the sunlight to see his face. “Spit it out, then. What?”

“In the Quiet Way,” Eb went forward with caution, “there are eldresses, and your mother is one.”

“Yes.” Flo waited.

“Well, so – what’s her headcovering for? In the Old Order, the covering is worn for a troll’s submission to the authority of her husband. She wouldn’t teach in the meeting of the Kindred, or serve on the elders’ meeting. In the Quiet Way, if you can be an eldress, leading and teaching, why is the covering worn? I ask for my ignorance, Flo, not to be contentious.”

Flo took her hand out from under his only that she might give stroke his hand in quiet reassurance. “I know,” she said.

She took a deep breath.

“Among my kindred,” she explained, “the covering implies a submission, but not to each other.

“When Jonas Baer founded the Quiet Way, from the beginning all the trolls were to be the same: equality – ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus’. We reverence and love and heed the holy Word – we hold it sacred: and, when we rightly divided the holy Word, we came to (in our eyes) the truth that history came into its making as well as the living breath of God. We believe we are faithful to its meaning and message when we make allowance for the way things were at the time of its writing, and the people among whom by God’s grace and inspiration it was formed. Also, we recognise that part of the teaching of the holy Word is about the way things change and grow. In both the testaments, the story of the people of God is about seeking and finding the living Spirit in unexpected places – among the Gentiles, not just among the Jews, among the poor and weak, not just among the successful, among the outcasts and the sinners, not just among the righteous and upright.”

Flo paused, looking a little anxiously at Eb to see how this was being received. He looked thoughtful: and was in fact reflecting on the teaching of the holy Apostle Paul, that a Sister’s place was to be silent and learn – anything she failed to understand in the meeting of the Kindred, her husband would explain to her at home. Eb thought Flo’s husband might have his work cut out for him.

He smiled at Flo. “Carry on,” he said.

“Well – so, at the beginning of the Quiet Way, all the trolls wore their hair free, no hats; for a sign of equality and believing that the clothing of Bible days was for the people then, though the Spirit was the same, and the principles of modesty and dignity should be carried on. But a feeling came about among some of the Sisters that they wanted to wear the covering. It wasn’t for submission to their husbands; it wasn’t even exactly submission at all. They saw God more as a redeemer who loves us than as a warrior-king who dominates us – though they did, and still do, call God ‘Lord’.”

“The ones who took the covering – and it wasn’t insisted on for everyone, it was voluntary; still is today, you don’t have to wear it, though it caught on in a big way – but the ones who took the covering had taken a particular vow.

“Among the Kindred of the Quiet Way, the covering is called a Humble Hat

“Sisters began to wear it at a time when a lot of contention had arisen. There were conflicting interpretations of the holy Word, differences of opinion about the land use on the community farm, arguments and suspicion about the right handling and sharing of worldly wealth. And this wasn’t just healthy difference – it had a flavour of bitterness about it, as here and there among the Kindred folk got an attachment to being right. I guess wherever trolls gather in community, sooner or later conflict will begin.

Eb nodded. He knew this was so. Flo continued her story:

“As feelings rose and trolls became entrenched in their views, one against the other, there came a spirit of arrogance in the way the trolls spoke to one another. Harsh words were used; hard, sarcastic comments made: the kindred became defensive, and no longer saw the need to be kind.

“Then some of the eldresses and others of the mothers and young Sisters came together, grieving for what the community was becoming, and seeking a true Quiet way, according to the original spirit of the Kindred.

“In their seeking, they were led to the testimony of the holy Apostle Peter, about how a wife will win over her husband by her gentleness and modesty. What we call the valley spirit, in the Quiet Way (from the Tao, Eb: the sea is the king of a hundred streams because it is content to lie below them). The way of humility will always win. It is the meek who will inherit the earth – Jesus said this, so how could it not be true?”

Florence glanced at Eb, who was listening intently. He had no idea what the Tao might be, but he was no stranger to the problems of community dissension. Flo continued:

“So these eldresses and other troll Sisters, having searched the scripture of the holy Word and prayed, said ‘What we will do, is undertake to lead the way - not as a man leads a woman, but as a valley leads the rain. We will take a special vow of lowliness and humble heart, a vow of gentle, courteous speech, of patience and understanding. We will refrain from bitter arguments and angry words. ‘A soft answer turneth away wrath’. We will become soft, and be the first to make peace.

“Then, as they gathered round and planned, they decided that though this was a good idea, the problem would not be the idea but having the forbearance and a spacious enough spirit to last the course and really behave in such a way. After all, it was no more than was enjoined upon all Believers, only they had forgotten it under the cloke of fair seeming – words like ‘honesty’, ‘plain speaking’ and ‘speaking the truth in love’. Ha!

“So these trolls thought they would need a sign, some kind of daily reminder that they had made this vow. They wanted to encourage others to see they had promised and remind them of it, not just make a secret sign for themselves. They thought of going barefoot, but most of them did anyway, so that wouldn’t mean much. Someone suggested wearing a badge, another thought maybe a coloured ribbon, but these and many other ideas found objections and didn’t seem to be quite what they were looking for.

“And then one of the younger trolls began to speak about the early days of the faith, and the Old Order way of wearing a head-covering as the sign of submission. The covering was not only about authority in a community or a family, but connected with the quietness and modesty the holy Apostle Peter had said would overcome; like the low-lying sea that receives the streams not because they are forced, but because they come of themselves, following what is natural.

“The valley spirit, the way of lowliness, gentleness and humility, seemed well signified by the head-covering – especially because it had always been traditionally the feminine way, when the masculine way tended more towards struggle and strength; and this new plan had come about through the searching of the Sisters, which made it feel right somehow.

“Once they had thought of it, wearing a head-covering seemed to them to be the perfect symbol; stepping into a fuller and deeper meaning than the old one about dominion of Brothers over Sisters. The covering was obvious to all – noticeable to those who looked at you and unforgettable to yourself wearing it. It was something you put on every day in the mornings which made it a daily choice you had to think about – and the eldresses made a form of words, a very short prayer ceremony for a troll to say each day when she put the covering on.

“The coverings had to be washed and pressed in the course of life, and when they were busy about that task the trolls were encouraged to think about tending, renewing, mending and refining – purifying – the way of the valley spirit (humility) they had chosen.

“As they washed the covering, they thought of how our best intentions grow grubby and stale; and Sister Water, so humble and pure and clean, must help us make a new beginning. As they pressed the caps, they thought about smoothing out differences and calming the way things are. They thought about the heat of the iron and the costliness of humility, that sears into our souls at times.

“And as they wore the covering, they did not resent it (should they forget their resolve and speak hastily or sharply) if someone said ‘I thought you’d taken the valley spirit vow!’ – they received it gladly, as a welcome reminder.

“That’s how it started. Each Sister makes her own kapp, and stitches onto the side of it the letters HH – humble hat.

“Nowadays, if anyone slips and starts to get a bit eggy with one of the kindred, a Sister will just whisper quietly ‘Keep your hat on, babe!’ – and that usually does the trick. Or they’ll even say nothing; just a quick glance at your kapp – and you suddenly hear yourself, how you sound to others; bossy or opinionated, or sharp and contemptuous. Or if someone gets a bit uppity about something, her Sister might say ‘Hmm. HH. That would be for . . . High Horse? Hot Head? What?’ or ‘Sorry, let me get my glasses, is that HH you have embroidered there, or HRH?’ And it generally dissolves in laughter. But if it doesn’t, if she’s gotten really steamed up about something, it doesn’t matter so much anyway, because by this time just about everyone wears the humble hat; and they all have such a habit of gracious, gentle speech that they don’t spark back – so the storm just blows itself out.

“What changed among us, was that the Kindred began to think as much about how they said things as what they wanted to say. Life together shook down better after that. And the Sisters feel proud to be carrying the Light steady in this way.”

As Florence finished the story, she looked to Eb to see how it was received.

He looked at her kapp, raised his hand and lightly touched the embroidered letters HH. “Humble Hat,” he said quietly; “I like that.”

He thought for a moment, then asked her, “What about the Brothers? Didn’t they want to be part of this too?”

“Oh, yes!” Flo smiled. “When word got round the Brothers of the valley spirit vow, they were eager to join in: so the Sisters made them caps in a pillbox shape, or knitted hats for the cold weather, suitable for Brothers to wear, also embroidered with HH. I’ll make you one, if you like.”

A giggle rose up inside her seeing his sudden discomfiture. There is no greater anathema to Plain folk than to stand out from the crowd and be distinguished by something individual and singular.

“It’s okay, I understand,” she said: “but I’ll make you one nonetheless. You can wear it for a nightcap, and you’ll be glad of it anyway when the frosts come. I’ll make you a red one so nobody will notice you’re wearing it. Anyway, who knows, it might catch on. Eb Groundbreaker Stilleschuyler.”

“The only way I’m likely to break ground,” Eb said immediately, “is by the force of the crash when I slip up and stumble. “

She smiled, understanding why he said it; the ambition of aspiring to leadership and personal exaltation was not the Plain way. He had to refuse it, and she loved him for it. Knowing he would not want to get bogged down in inspection of motivations, or the rights and wrongs of making change, she jumped to her feet, keeping hold of his hand to pull him up after her.

“Let’s go,” she said. “There’ll be another day and yet another day to talk about everything under the sun: and right now my tummy is beginning to grumble about wanting a cookie or three.”
As they came out of the privacy of the trees into the sunlight, Eb gave Flo’s hand a gentle squeeze; and let it go.


Observing The Lord’s Day

On the Lord’s Day, Eb rolled out of bed in the day still dark and cold, thrust some slender, dry splitting of timber on top of last night’s embers in the woodstove’s firebox, set a kettle of water on the top, and scrambled into his clothes to help Silas with the milking. He saw no point in washing beforehand. Their small herd of thirty cows provided as much milk as the community needed and some to sell; but for a small herd, Eb thought the amount of dung they could produce was equally as impressive, if not more so.

Only half awake, he and Silas worked together in silence. On the Sabbath, day of rest, everything had to be done earlier and quicker to be through in time for the Circle Gathering, a lengthy affair that gave adequate time for the preaching of the Word to go forth with power on the full strength of the praises of the people.

All done methodically, the milk strained into churns, the cows turned loose and the milking shed swilled down to Eb’s level of satisfaction – which was not to meet anybody’s expectations of him but having in mind the quiet gaze of the Lord who always sees – the two of them nodded a farewell and parted to make themselves ready for the Gathering. Silas loaded the milk and took it to the dairy for the Sisters to work with, because his house was nearer the community buildings than Eb’s. He didn’t mind this. He thought it balanced fairly with the corresponding reality that because Eb’s cottage sat right on the verge of the woodland, absolutely everyone presumed on his good nature in gathering fir-cones and kindling sticks.

Back in his cottage, the fire had rekindled; Eb touched the kettle – it was hot enough for a wash.

He stripped off his clothes, fetched a bowl, towel and soap; and scrubbed himself thoroughly, beside the stove. He combed his hair (for a troll, this takes a while), dressed in his Lord’s Day clothes, tidied his bed and the things he had used, grabbed an apple to eat on the way, and set off to the barn the Kindred had upgraded into a Gathering Place.

Heini Weidman had been in early and lit the stoves, and the edge of the chill was taken off, at least for those who sat nearest; mostly the little ones and the very old. One or two Sisters were moving quietly around the barn putting out the song books.

Eb looked for his mother as he arrived at the Gathering Place, and made his way along the bench to her once he saw where she was seated.

He bent and kissed the top of her head : “Mooma, I’ve news for you,” he whispered quietly in her ear. She smiled at him, her gaze wise and kind taking in her son, checking that all was well with him. “Jah, I heard,” she murmured back; “happiness, pink hair. That’s good news indeed.”

It was impossible to keep anything secret in a community; even sometimes things that hadn’t happened.

He grinned at her, kissed her again, and made his way back to sit with the Brothers on the other side of the barn.

At the front of the room, the Servant of the Light had got to his feet. “So;” he said, “greetings Brethren and Sisters, as we gather in the Light. Let’s sing.”

Eb loved the singing of the Kindred; a capella four-part harmony. The Servant kept time with the beating of his hand to the slow rhythm necessary for a large body of folk to sing together. Flo had said that in the Quiet Way they also played musical instruments in their Gathering, which sounded worryingly exotic to Eb. This was what he liked; the harmony of the community gathered in one song. Sing loud enough, he had been taught as a child, for your neighbour to hear your voice; and quiet enough to hear your neighbour’s voice.

It was a story of the Light in itself, the Kindred singing: the discipline of listening, the richness of all that individuality blending to lift up the Glory of the Light; attending to timing, from tenor and soprano to alto and bass giving back the intricacies that made the melody so rich and complete. The words of the songs bedded down into the music of singing, and arose from the hearts and souls and roots of the people, a living tissue of praise.
In the Old Order Forest Kindred, they sang for a long time. Then the preacher expounded the holy Word for a long time. Then they sat in the profound silence of prayer for a long time.

The weather of this great spiritual landscape varied as much as in any broad sweeping place. Eb found sometimes the Light broke through the clouds in a shaft that found its way clear to his soul. Such moments when they came always caught him by surprise; the touch of the Light finding him unexpectedly with its sweet blade of joy. More often his back ached, and his mind shrieked with boredom, desperate for the preaching to come to an end.

When Father Whichart took his turn to preach, he did not cut it short, but he lightened what he had to say with stories, with word-pictures that drew on the vivid, homely realities of their ordinary lives; lifting up the commonplace and turning it this way and that in the Light, opening the way in to the wonder that the Light’s mystery glows to sanctify every humble task, every cottager’s daily work; in the tears of a child over some tiny mishap, in the smell of apple pie wafting a welcome through the open doorway, in the lighting of the lamp on the family table as evening falls.
It was not so with every preacher; this morning Eb gritted his teeth through a rambling exposition that relied heavily on rhetoric and got to the heart of nothing.

His heart sank right at the beginning.

“As I was preparing my talk for this morning,” the preacher began, “I was moved to speak to you on the subject of prayer. I had for years an immense difficulty with this matter, which I only resolved when I went on a holiday I had arranged in a beautiful place I had long wanted to visit. As I sat upon the mountain top outside the cabin I had taken for the fortnight, I . . .”

Eb thought he might be able to bear it if he concentrated on counting the number of times the preacher said “I”.

He shifted slightly, moving his weight to ease the uncompromising lumbar ache that had settled in, zoning in and out of the torrential flow of words.

“Is it because I am too sinful? No, for God has forgiven me? Is it because I am an ordinary man? No, for we all know that God calls ordinary people, yes even men such as me! Is it because I am basically a man of action? No, because Jacob was a man of action, and so was Abraham and Moses and Isaac and King David and…”

Eb thought perhaps if he leaned forward, his head slightly turned and resting on his hand, he could appear deep in contemplation and catch a glimpse of Florence sitting with Dorcas on the other side of the barn.