Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
The Deacons Week
By Rose Terry Cooke (18271892)
[The Sphinxs Children and Other Peoples. 1886.]
THE COMMUNION service of January was just over in the church at Sugar Hollow, and people were waiting for Mr. Parkes to give out the hymn, but he did not give it out; he laid his book down on the table, and looked about on his church.
He was a man of simplicity and sincerity, fully in earnest to do his Lords work, and do it with all his might, but he did sometimes feel discouraged. His congregation was a mixture of farmers and mechanics, for Sugar Hollow was cut in two by Sugar Brook, a brawling, noisy stream that turned the wheel of many a mill and manufactory, yet on the hills around it there was still a scattered population eating their bread in the full perception of the primeval curse. So he had to contend with the keen brain and skeptical comment of the men who piqued themselves on power to hammer at theological problems as well as hot iron, with the jealousy and repulsion and bitter feeling that have bred the communistic hordes abroad and at home; while perhaps he had a still harder task to awaken the sluggish souls of those who used their days to struggle with barren hill-side and rocky pasture for mere food and clothing, and their nights to sleep the dull sleep of physical fatigue and mental vacuity.
It seemed sometimes to Mr. Parkes that nothing but the trump of Gabriel could arouse his people from their sins and make them believe on the Lord and follow His footsteps. To-daynoa long time before to-day he had mused and prayed till an idea took shape in his thought, and now he was to put it in practice; yet he felt peculiarly responsible and solemnized as he looked about him and foreboded the success of his experiment. Then there flashed across him, as words of Scripture will come back to the habitual Bible-reader, the noble utterance of Gamaliel concerning Peter and his brethren when they stood before the council: If this council or this work be of men, it will come to nought: but if it be of God ye cannot overthrow it. So with a sense of strength the minister spoke.
My dear friends, he said, you all know, though I did not give any notice to that effect, that this week is the Week of Prayer. I have a mind to ask you to make it for this once a week of practice instead. I think we may discover some things, some of the things of God, in this manner, that a succession of prayer-meetings would not perhaps so thoroughly reveal to us. Now, when I say this I dont mean to have you go home and vaguely endeavor to walk straight in the old way; I want you to take topics, as they are called, for the prayer-meetings. For instance, Monday is prayer for the temperance work. Try all that day to be temperate in speech, in act, in indulgence of any kind that is hurtful to you. The next day is for Sunday-schools; go and visit your scholars, such of you as are teachers, and try to feel that they have living souls to save. Wednesday is a day for fellowship meeting; we are cordially invited to attend a union-meeting of this sort at Bantam. Few of us can go twenty-five miles to be with our brethren there; let us spend that day in cultivating our brethren here; let us go and see those who have been cold to us for some reason, heal up our breaches of friendship, confess our shortcomings one to another, and act as if, in our Masters words, all ye are brethren.
Thursday is the day to pray for the family relation; let us each try to be to our families on that day in our measure what the Lord is to His family, the Church, remembering the words: Fathers, provoke not your children to anger; Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. These are texts rarely commented upon, I have noticed, in our conference meetings; we are more apt to speak of the obedience due from children, and the submission and meekness our wives owe us, forgetting that duties are always reciprocal.
Friday, the Church is to be prayed for. Let us then each for himself try to act that day just as we think Christ, our great Exemplar, would have acted in our places. Let us try to prove to ourselves and the world about us that we have not taken upon us His name lightly or in vain. Saturday is prayer-day for the heathen and foreign missions. Brethren, you know and I know that there are heathen at our doors here; let every one of you who will, take that day to preach the gospel to some one who does not hear it anywhere else. Perhaps you will find work that you know not of lying in your midst. And let us all on Saturday evening meet here again and choose some one brother to relate his experience of the week. You who are willing to try this method, please to rise.
Let us sing the doxology, said Mr. Parkes; and it was sung with full fervor. The new idea had roused the church fully; it was something fixed and positive to do; it was the lever-point Archimedes longed for, and each felt ready and strong to move a world.
Saturday night the church assembled again. The cheerful eagerness was gone from their faces; they looked downcast, troubled, weary, as the pastor expected. When the box for ballots was passed about, each one tore a bit of paper from the sheet placed in the hymn-books for that purpose, and wrote on it a name. The pastor said, after he had counted them:
Well, brethren, he said, I dono why I shouldnt tell it. I am pretty well ashamed of myself, no doubt, but I ought to be, and maybe I shall profit by what Ive found out these six days back. Ill tell you just as it come. Monday, I looked about me to begin with. I am amazing fond of coffee, and it aint good for me; the doctor says it aint; but dear me, it does set a man up good, cold mornings, to have a cup of hot, sweet, tasty drink, and I havent had the grit to refuse! I knew it made me what folks call nervous and I call cross before night come; and I knew it fetched on spells of low spirits when our folks couldnt get a word out of menot a good one, any way; so I thought Id try on that to begin with. I tell you it come hard! I hankered after that drink of coffee dreadful! Seemed as though I couldnt eat my breakfast without it. I feel to pity a man that loves liquor moren I ever did in my life before; but I feel sure they can stop if they try, for Ive stopped, and Im a-goin to stay stopped.
Well, come to dinner, there was another fight. I do set by pie the most of anything. I was fetched up on pie, as you may say. Our folks always had it three times a day, and the doctor hes been talkin and talkin to me about eatin pie. I have the dyspepsy like everything, and it makes me useless by spells, and onreliable as a weathercock. An Doctor Drake he says there wont nothing help me but to diet. I was readin the Bible that morning while I was waiting for breakfast, for twas Monday, and wife was kind of set back with washin and all, and I come acrost that part where it says that the bodies of Christians are temples of the Holy Ghost. Well, thinks I, wed ought to take care of em if they be, and see that theyre kep clean and pleasant, like the church; and nobody can be clean nor pleasant that has dyspepsy. But, come to pie, I felt as though I couldnt! and, lo ye, I didnt! I eet a piece right against my conscience; facin what I knew I ought to do, I went and done what I ought not to. I tell ye my conscience made music of me considerble, and I said I wouldnt never sneer at a drinkin man no more when he slipped up. Id feel for him, and help him, for I see just how it was. So that days practice giv out, but it learnt me a good deal moren I knew before.
I started out next day to look up my Bible-class. They havent really tended up to Sunday-school as they ought to, along back, but I was busy, here and there, and there didnt seem to be a real chance to get to it. Well, twould take the evenin to tell it all, but I found one real sick, been a-bed for three weeks, and was so glad to see me that I felt fair ashamed. Seemed as though I heered the Lord for the first time sayin: Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to Me. Then another mans old mother says to me before he come in from the shed, says she: Hes been a-savin that if folks practised what they preached youd ha come round to look him up afore now, but he reckoned you kinder looked down on mill-hands. Im awful glad you come. Brethering, so was I! I tell you, that days work done me good. I got a poor opinion of Josiah Emmons, now I tell ye, but I learnt more about the Lords wisdom than a month o Sundays ever showed me.
Well, its so, answered the deacon; its so right along. Why, I never thought so much of my Bible-class nor took no sech intrest in em as I do to-daynot since I begun to teach. I blieve theyll come more reglar now too.
Now come fellowship-day. I thought that would be all plain sailin; seemed as though Id got warmed up till I felt pleasant towardst everybody, so I went around seein folks that was neighbors, and twas easy; but when I come home at noon spell, Philury says, says she: Square Tuckers black bull is into th orchard a-tearin round, and hes knocked two lengths o fence down flat! Well, the old Adam riz up then, youd better blieve. That black bull has been a-breakin into my lots ever sence we got in th aftermath, and its Square Tuckers fence, and he wont make it bull-strong as hed oughter, and that orchard was a young one, just comin to bear, and all the new wood crisp as cracklins with frost. Youd better blieve I didnt have much feller-feelin with Amos Tucker. I jest put over to his house and spoke pretty free to him, when he looked up and says, says he: Fellowship-meetin day, aint it, Deacon? Id ruther hed ha slapped my face. I felt as though I should like to slip behind the door. I see pretty distinct what sort of life Id been livin all the years Id been a professor, when I couldnt hold on to my tongue and temper one day!
Breth-e-ren, interrupted a slow, harsh voice, somewhat broken with emotion, Ill tell the rest ont. Josiah Emmons come around like a man an a Christian right there. He asked me for to forgive him and not to think twas the fault of his religion, because twas hisn and nothin else. I think more of him to-day than I ever done before. I was one that wouldnt say Id practise with the rest of ye. I thought twas everlastin nonsense. Id ruther go to forty-nine prayer-meetins than work at bein good a week. I blieve my hope has been one of them that perish; it haint worked, and I leave it behind to-day. I mean to begin honest, and it was seein one honest Christian man fetched me round tot.
Well, when next day come I got up to make the fire, and my boy Joe had forgot the kindlins. Id opened my mouth to give him Jesse, when it come over me suddin that this was the day of prayer for the family relation. I thought I wouldnt say nothin. I jest fetched in the kindlins myself, and when the fire burnt up good I called wife.
Dear me! says she. Ive got such a headache, Siah, but Ill come in a minnit. I didnt mind that, for women are always havin aches, and I was jest a-goin to say so, when I remembered the tex about not bein bitter against em, so I says: Philury, you lay a-bed. I expect Emmy and me can get the vittles to-day. I declare, she turned over and gave me sech a look; why, it struck right in. There was my wife, that had worked for an waited on me twenty-odd year, most scart because I spoke kind of feelin to her. I went out and fetched in the pail o water shed always drawed herself, and then I milked the cow. When I come in Philury was up fryin the potatoes, and the tears a-shinin on her white face. She didnt say nothin, shes kinder still, but she hadnt no need to. I felt a leetle meanern I did the day before. But twant nothin to my condition when I was goin, towards night, down the sullar stairs for some apples, sos the children could have a roast, and I heered Joe up in the kitchen say to Emmy: I do blieve, Em, pas goin to die. Why, Josiar Emmons, how you talk! Well, I do; hes so everlastin pleasant an good-natered I cant but think hes struck with death.
I tell ye, brethren, I set right down on them sullar stairs and cried. I did, reely. Seemed as though the Lord had turned and looked at me jest as He did at Peter. Why, there was my own children never see me act real fatherly and pretty in all their lives. Id growled and scolded and prayed at em, and tried to fetch em up jest as the twig is bent the trees inclined, ye know, but I hadnt never thought that theyd got right and reason to expect Id do my part as well as they theirn. Seemed as though I was findin out more about Josiah Emmonss shortcomins than was real agreeable.
Come around Friday I got back to the store. Id kind o left it to the boys the early part of the week, and things was a little cuterin, but I did have sense not to tear round and use sharp words so much as common. I began to think twas gettin easy to practise after five days, when in come Judge Herricks wife after some curtin calico. I had a hansome piece, all done off with roses an things, but there was a fault in the weavinevery now and then a thin streak. She didnt notice it, but she was pleased with the figures ont, and said shed take the whole piece. Well, jest as I was wrappin of it up, what Mr. Parkes here said about tryin to act jest as the Lord would in our place, come acrost me. Why, I turned as red as a beet, I know I did. It made me all of a tremble. There was I, a door-keeper in the tents of my God, as David says, really cheatin, and cheatin a woman. I tell ye, brethren, I was all of a sweat. Mis Herrick, says I, I dont blieve youve looked real close at this goods; taint thorough wove, says I. So she didnt take it; but what fetched me was to think how many times Id done sech mean, onreliable little things to turn a penny, and all the time sayin and prayin that I wanted to be like Christ. I kep a-trippin of myself up all day jest in the ordinary business, and I was a peg lower down when night come than I was a Thursday. Id ruther, as far as the hard work is concerned, lay a mile of four-foot stone wall than undertake to do a mans livin Christian duty for twelve workin hours; and the heft of that is, its because I aint used to it, and I ought to be.
So this mornin came around, and I felt a mite more cherk. Twas missionary mornin, and seemed as if twas a sight easier to preach than to practise. I thought Id begin to old Mis Vedders. So I put a Testament in my pocket and knocked to her door. Says I, Good mornin maam, and then I stopped. Words seemed to hang, somehow. I didnt want to pop right out that Id come over to tryn convert her folks. I hemmed and swallered a little, and finlly I said, says I: We dont see you to meetin very frequent, Mis Vedder.
Look a-here, Deacon! she snapped, Ive lived alongside of you fifteen year, and you knowed I never went to meetin; we aint a pious lot, and you knowed it; were poorern death and ugliern sin. Jim he drinks and swears, and Malviny dono her letters. She knows a heap she hadnt ought to, besides. Now what are you a-comin here to-day for, Id like to know, and talkin so glib about meetin? Go to meetin! Ill go or come jest as I darn please, for all you. Now get out o this! Why, she come at me with a broomstick. There wasnt no need ont; what she said was enough. I hadnt never asked her nor hern to so much as think of goodness before. Then I went to another place jest like thatI wont call no more names; and sure enough there was ten children in rags, the hull on em, and the man half drunk. He giv it to me too; and I dont wonder. Id never lifted a hand to serve nor save em before in all these years. Id said considerable about the heathen in foreign parts, and give some little for to convert em, and I had looked right over the heads of them that was next door. Seemed as if I could hear Him say: These ought ye to have done, and not have left the other undone. I couldnt face another soul to-day, brethren. I come home, and here I be. Ive been searched through and through, and found wantin. God be merciful to me a sinner!
He dropped into his seat, and bowed his head; and many another bent too. It was plain that the deacons experience was not the only one among the brethren. Mr. Parkes rose, and prayed as he had never prayed before; the week of practice had fired his heart too. And it began a memorable year for the church in Sugar Hollow; not a year of excitement or enthusiasm, but one when they heard their Lord saying, as to Israel of old: Go forward, and they obeyed his voice. The Sunday-school flourished, the church services were fully attended, every good thing was helped on its way, and peace reigned in their homes and hearts, imperfect, perhaps, as new growths are, but still an offshoot of the peace past understanding.