The harsh clang of the meetinghouse bell shattered the peace of the night. At the sound, Gabrielle jerked upright in her narrow bed. She had not been asleep but instead had been lying very still with her eyes wide open, staring out at the grainy darkness and listening to the soft breathing of the sleeping girls around her. She had matched her own breaths with theirs in hopes of bringing quiet harmony back to her thoughts, but the gift of knowing kept nipping at the corners of her mind. Visions of men with blackened faces, corn melting, and shadows of the world flitting among the trees had troubled her thoughts all day, but it was all too vague for understanding. All she knew for sure was the sense of dread awake and growing inside her.
Usually when the gift of knowing came to her, it wasn’t shrouded in so much mystery. Rather it was clear, as clear as her image in a still pool. This time a handful of pebbles had dropped in to cloud the pool. Earlier she had gone to her quiet place in the woods to pray to either rid her mind of the troubling vision or bring it clear so she could perhaps understand it. But the vision had stayed with her, as dark and murky as ever.
The bell kept tolling the alarm as Gabrielle quickly rose from her bed. Around her the younger sisters were waking and jumping out of bed to see what might be happening. Outside one of the brothers was shouting, “Fire!”
While the girls clustered around the window, Gabrielle pulled her dress over her head and found her shoes. She had no need to look out to discover what was happening, for the gift of knowing had cleared. She could see the flames whooshing through the hay and circling the posts of their harvest barn. Nathan was there in the midst of the flames crying out to her, but his voice was too faint to hear. There was no time for looking. She had to hurry to warn Nathan of his danger.
She left one of the older girls in charge before she slipped out into the hallway. It was against the rules for her to talk to Nathan without another brother or sister present, but surely tonight the rules could be broken. Nathan would be rushing out to the fire in his usual reckless way. She had to stop him before he ran headlong into danger.
Already the boys were out of their rooms and pounding down their stairway. Gabrielle hurried down the girls’ stairway over to the boys’ side of the house. She’d stop him on his way out and make him understand the need for caution.
“Sister Gabrielle, where are ye going?” Sister Mercy’s voice stopped her.
Gabrielle spun around to look at the older woman. “Oh praise the heavens, Sister Mercy. You can help me. I must find Brother Nathan. He is in terrible danger.”
Sister Mercy was frowning. “Ye know it is forbidden for you to go to the boys’ side of the house. And where is thy cap?”
Gabrielle touched the dark curls that fell about her shoulders. It was a vanity to show her hair or enjoy the feel of it on her neck, a vanity she’d never been able to completely put away from her. But surely at a time like this, one shouldn’t be worried with vanity. “But you don’t understand, Sister Mercy. I must warn him. The fire!” Gabrielle’s eyes widened as suddenly in her mind Nathan was falling among the flames. “We must keep him away from the fire.”
“Ye talk nonsense, child. Our new harvest barn has caught fire. Every hand is needed to put out the fire and save what we can.”
Gabrielle turned away from Sister Mercy back toward the boys’ stairway. She was always obedient. It seemed only right to be so, but this time her mind would not let her rest. Some power stronger than her need to be obedient to the Shaker rules was pushing her.
“Anyway, he is gone out to help with the fire already.” Sister Mercy’s voice softened as she touched Gabrielle’s shoulder. “Look at me, Sister Gabrielle.” When Gabrielle obediently turned to her, Sister Mercy held her candle up high to better see Gabrielle’s face and asked, “Has thou seen a vision, my child?”
Gabrielle didn’t like to reveal her visions. As a child it had brought her nothing but rebukes and trouble, but even among the Believers who prized and honored such gifts, Gabrielle still held them close to her. Only when she had the gift of song during the meetings could she feel completely free to share her visions. Now she reluctantly said, “Perhaps it is nothing.”
Excerpted from THE OUTSIDER © Copyright 2011 by Ann H. Gabhart. Reprinted with permission by Revell. All rights reserved.