Iris does not return before I fall asleep. I wake to find her safely in her bed and am greatly relieved. So much so that it eclipses the strange events of last night. I don’t think on what Quill told me or what passed between us on our walk. I don’t confess to Iris that I followed her, and if she knows I did, she doesn’t say.
It comes as an unsettling shock to me when Benjamin appears at the door of the kitchen as we work. I try not to listen to him as he speaks with Sister Anne, try not to be noticed at all. Still, Sister Anne comes over, and, with hard eyes, tells me that my cousin wishes to speak to me in private.
He stands at the kitchen door, his chin lifted haughtily as he surveys the women working all around him. Giving himself credit, no doubt, for the way we govern ourselves in his absence. He detects his holy influence; the pleasure is written on his face.
“Evie, come,” he says, and it is not an invitation but a command. I am keenly aware of the eyes upon us as we walk to the Elders’ house.
We don’t go inside. Instead, he sits upon the sturdy rocking chair on the front porch, and I am given no choice but to stand awkwardly beside him, unsure of the purpose of our visit. Did someone see me with Quill? Had they seen Iris?
“How are you settling in, Evie?” Benjamin asks me, his boyish, round face transformed by the sickly imitation of a smile.
I wondered what answer he expects. I don’t like conversations that feel like tests or tricks. “I’m settling in well enough.”
He nods at my answer, so it must be the correct one. “I worried. So many young people find it difficult to accept the lifestyle here. And so many of them leave us.”
Cold sweat trickles down my back. He did see me last night, or he knows about Iris’s plans. I can think of no other reason for him to make such a remark. “I just got here. Why ever would I leave?”
That was a misstep. As good as I am at lying, pretending innocence has always been more likely to trip me up. My answer dismays him considerably, and he purses his lips as he regards me, his icy eyes narrowing. “What must we do, Evie, to make you happy here?”
There is nothing that would make me happy to be in this community, but I can’t say so. “I expect I’ll get used to things.”
“You’ve already asked our good Sister Anne if you could leave. I can’t force you to stay, of course, but,” he pauses, bringing his thumb and forefinger to his chin in thought. “Think of what your mother would say. I don’t doubt this solution was preferable to an asylum. Have you considered that might be your only other option, practically speaking?”
My heart pounds in my ears, my skin prickles all over. An asylum, of course! How could I be so stupid that I have not considered that danger before? I feel as though I will be sick or faint. I would rather die than do either in front of him. “I’m certain I find it preferable, as well.”
He nods. “So, we understand each other, then.”
I say nothing.
“I should like you to treat me with a bit more deference and familial feeling.” He turns his gaze to the horizon, the mountain standing silent vigil in the distance. “I think it reflects badly upon my person when you are cold to me. It undermines me in the eyes of the family.”
“I didn’t mean to undermine you.” My easy capitulation raises bile in my mouth. “I will endeavor to be warmer in the future.”
“Not too warm, remember.” He flicks his hand, as if swatting away a bug from the arm of the rocking chair. “Go on. Back to work.”
YOU ARE READING
After her father’s death and her mother’s hasty remarriage, Evelyn Whitney is handed over to the Shaker commune of Bannock, New York, into a life she has little chance of escaping. When the dead become monsters and community loyalties fracture, Evel...