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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Reverend Thomas Tucker as a Parson
By Rose Terry Cooke (1827–1892)
 
From ‘Some Account of Thomas Tucker,’ in ‘The Sphinx’s Children and Other People’s’

THE SOCIAL duties of a settled clergyman might have pressed on him onerously; but as if Providence saw that he was best fitted for a life of solitude, just as the Green Street Church had listened to their learned and pious pastor for the first time after his installation in their pulpit, Keziah, his sister, was seized with a sudden and dangerous illness. The kind women of the church rallied around Thomas Tucker in this hour of his need, and nursed Keziah with unremitting kindness; but all in vain. She dropped out of life as silently and patiently as she had endured living, and it remained only to say that the place which knew her should now know her no more; for she left behind her no dear friend but her brother, and not an enemy. Even Thomas missed her rather as a convenience than a companion; profiting in a certain sense by her death, as it aroused keenly the sympathy of the church for his loss and loneliness, and attached them to him by those links of pity that are proverbially almost as strong as love. In any other circumstances the Green Street Church would no doubt have discovered, early in their relation, that Mr. Tucker was as unfit for any pastoral position as he had been for that post in the college chapel; but much was forgiven him out of his people’s abundant kindness, and their respect for his learning, his simplicity, and his sincere piety, forbade their objecting at first to his great deficiencies in those things considered quite as needful to pulpit success as the power of preaching and the abundance of knowledge. It happened, soon after Keziah’s death, that Mr. Tucker was called to officiate at the funeral of one of his wealthiest parishioners, a man who had just come back from Europe, and been killed in a railroad accident on the way to his home in Deerford. He was personally unknown to Thomas Tucker, but his character was notorious. He went to church, and bought an expensive pew there, merely as a business speculation, it gave him weight in the eyes of his fellows to be outwardly respectable as well as rich; but he was niggardly to his family, ostentatious, overreaching, and cruel as death to the poor and struggling who crossed his path or came into his employ.  1
  The Reverend Mr. Tucker improved the occasion. He took for the text of that funeral address, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” and after a pungent comparison between the goods of this world and the tortures of a future state, he laid down his spectacles and wound up with, “And now, beloved, I have laid before you the two conditions. Think ye that to-day he whose mortal part lieth before you would not utter a loud Amen to my statement? Yea, if there be truth in the Word of God, he who hath left behind him the gain of life and greed is now crying aloud for a drop of water to cool his parched tongue, and longing for an hour of probation wherein to cast off the fetters of ill-gotten gold and sit with Lazarus gathering crumbs in the company of dogs. Wherefore, seeing that God hath spoken sharply to you all in the sudden requirement of this rich man’s soul, let his admonition sink into your souls; seek ye first the kingdom of God, and cast in your lot with the poor of this world, rich in faith, and be ready to answer joyfully when the Master calls.”  2
  Of course the community was outraged; but for a few kindly souls who stood by the poor parson, and insisted that Keziah’s death had unsettled his mind, and not a few who felt that he had manfully told the truth without fear or favor, and could not help feeling a certain respect for him, he would have been asked, forcibly, to resign that very week. As it was, the indignant widow went over to another denomination without delay. “I will never set foot in that church again!” she said. “How can one be safe where a man is allowed to say whatever he chooses in the pulpit? A ritual never can be personal or insulting. I shall abide by the Prayer-Book hereafter.”  3
  In due time this matter faded out of the popular mind, as all things do in course of time, and nothing came between pastor and people except a gradual sense on their part that Solomon was right when he said, “Much study is a weariness to the flesh;” not only the student’s flesh, but also theirs who have to hear reiterated all the dry outcome of such study.  4
  But Parson Tucker’s career was not to be monotonous. His next astonishing performance was at a wedding. A very pretty young girl, an orphan, living in the house of a relative, equally poor but grasping and ambitious, was about to marry a young man of great wealth and thoroughly bad character; a man whom all men knew to be a drunkard, a gambler, and a dissolute fellow, though the only son of a cultivated and very aristocratic family. Poor Emily Manning had suffered all those deprivations and mortifications which result from living in a dependent condition, aware that her presence was irksome and unwelcome, while her delicate organization was overtaxed with work whose limits were as indefinite as the food and clothing which were its only reward. She had entered into this engagement in a sort of desperation, goaded on by the widowed sister-in-law with whom she lived, and feeling that nothing could be much worse than her present position. Parson Tucker knew nothing of this, but he did know the character of Royal Van Wyck; and when he saw the pallid, delicate, shrinking girl beside this already worn-out, debased, bestial creature, ready to put herself into his hands for life, the “daimon” laid hold upon him and spake again. He opened the service, as was customary in Hartland, with a short address; but surely never did such a bridal exhortation enter the ears of man and woman before.  5
  “My friends,” he began, “matrimony is not to be lightly undertaken, as the matter of a day; it is an awful compact for life and death that ye enter into here. Young man, if thou hast not within thyself the full purpose to treat this woman with pure respect, loyal service, and tender care; to guard her soul’s innocence as well as her bodily welfare; to cleave to her only, and keep thyself from evil thoughts and base indulgences for her sake,—if thou art not fit, as well as willing, to be priest and king of a clean household, standing unto her in character and act in God’s stead so far as man may, draw back even now from thine intent; for a lesser purpose is sacrilege here, and will be damnable infamy hereafter.”  6
  Royal Van Wyck opened his sallow green eyes with an insolent stare. He would have sworn roundly had not some poor instinct of propriety restrained him; as it was, he did not speak but looked away. He could not bear the keen deep-set eyes fixed upon him, and a certain gaunt majesty in the parson’s outstretched arm and severe countenance daunted him for the moment. But Thomas Tucker saw that he had no intention of accepting this good advice, so he turned to Emily.  7
  “Daughter,” he said, “if thou art about to enter into this solemn relation, pause and consider. If thou hast not such confidence in this man that thy heart faileth not an iota at the prospect of a lifelong companionship with him; if thou canst not trust him utterly, respect him as thy lord and head, yield him an obedience joyful and secure next to that thou givest to God; if he is not to thee the one desirable friend and lover; if thou hast a thought so free of him that it is possible for thee to imagine another man in his place without a shudder; if thou art not willing to give thyself to him in the bonds of a lifelong, inevitable covenant of love and service; if it is not the best and sweetest thing earth can offer thee to be his wife and the mother of his children,—stop now; stop at the very horns of the altar, lest thou commit the worst sin of woman, sell thy birthright for a mess of pottage, and find no place for repentance, though thou seek it carefully and with tears.”  8
  Carried away with his zeal for truth and righteousness, speaking as with the sudden inspiration of a prophet, Parson Tucker did not see the terror and the paleness deepening, as he spoke, on the bride’s fair countenance. As he extended his hand toward her she fell in a dead faint at his feet. All was confusion in an instant. The bridegroom swore and Mrs. Manning screamed, while the relations crowded about the insensible girl and tried to revive her. She was taken at once up-stairs to her room, and the wedding put off till the next day, as Mrs. Manning announced.  9
  “And you won’t officiate at it, old fellow! I’ll swear to that!” roared the baffled bridegroom with a volley of profane epithets, shaking his fist in the parson’s calm face.  10
  “Having taken the sword, I am content to perish thereby, even as Scripture saith,” answered Thomas Tucker, stalking out of the door.  11
  That night as he sat in his study, the door opened softly, and Emily Manning came in and knelt at the side of the parson’s chair. “I have no place to go to, sir,” she whispered, with trembling lips. “You saved me to-day; will you help me now? I was going to sin, but I didn’t know it till you told me.”  12
  “Then it was not sin, my child,” said Parson Tucker gently. “Sin is conscious transgression, and from that thou hast instantly departed.”  13
  “But what could I do?” she asked, her eyes full of tears. “I have no home. Marcia is tired of me, and I have no other friends. I wanted a home so much. Oh, I was wrong, for I did not love him. And now I have run away from Marcia,—she was so dreadful,—and what shall I do?”  14
  “Poor child!” he said tenderly. “Sit here. I will help. My old woman, in the kitchen below, shall fetch thee to a chamber. Keziah brought her with us; she is kind, and will care for thee, while I go to bring a friend.” So saying, the parson rung his bell for old Jane, gave the girl over to her care, and set out himself for President Winthrop’s house.  15
  “I have brought you a good work,” he said abruptly to Mrs. Winthrop. “Come with me; there is a soul in need at my house.”  16
  Mrs. Winthrop was used to this sort of summons from the parson. They had been good friends ever since the eccentric interview brought about by Jack Mason’s valentine, and when charity was needed Eleanor Winthrop’s heart and hand were always ready for service. She put on hat and shawl, and went with the parson to his house, hearing on the way all the story.  17
  “Mr. Tucker,” she said, as he finished the recital, “aren’t you going to make much trouble for yourself by your aggressive honesty?”  18
  Thomas looked at her, bewildered.  19
  “But the truth is to be spoken!” he replied, as if that were the end of the controversy. And she was silent, recognizing the fact that here conventions were useless, and self-preservation not the first law of grace, if it is of nature.  20
  All Mrs. Winthrop’s kindliness was aroused by the pitiful condition of Emily Manning. She consoled and counseled her like a mother, and soon after took her into her household as governess to the little girls whom Mr. Winthrop’s first wife had left him; making for the grateful girl a happy home, which in after years she left to become the wife of a good man, toward whom she felt all that Parson Tucker had required of her on that painful day which she hated now to remember. And as the parson performed this ceremony he turned after the benediction to Eleanor Winthrop, and said with a beam of noble triumph on his hollow visage, “Blessed be the Lord! I have saved a soul alive!”  21
  But long before this happy sequel came about, he had other opportunities to distinguish himself. There came a Sunday when the service of infant baptism was to be performed; and when the fair sweet babes, who had behaved with unusual decorum, were returned to their mothers’ arms, and the parson according to order said, “Let us pray,” he certainly offered the most peculiar petition ever heard in the Green Street Church. After expressing the usual desire that the baptized children might grow up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, he went on:—“But if it please thee, O Father, to recall these little ones to thyself in the innocence of their infancy, we will rejoice and give thanks, and sound thy praises upon the harp and timbrel. Yea! with the whole heart we will praise thee; for we know the tribulations and snares, the evil and folly and anguish, of this life below; and we know that not one child of Adam, coming to man’s estate, is spared that bitter and woful cup that is pressed out from the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, which our progenitors ate of in thy garden of Paradise, and thereby sinned and fell, and bequeathed to us their evil longings and habitual transgression. They are the blessed who are taken away in their infancy, and lie forever by green pastures and still waters in the fields of heaven. We ask of thee no greater or better gift for these lambs than early to be folded where none shall hurt or destroy in all thy holy mountain, and the love that is above all mother’s love shall cradle them throughout eternity. Amen!”  22
  Not a mother in that congregation failed to shiver and tremble at this prayer, and tears fell fast and thick on the babes who slumbered softly in the tender arms that had gathered them home, after consecrating them to that God who yet they were so unwilling should literally accept their offering. Fifty pairs of eyes were turned on Parson Tucker with the look of a bear robbed of its cubs; but far more were drowned in tears of memory and regret, poignant still, but strangely soothed by this vivid presentation of the blessedness wherein their loved and lost were safely abiding.  23
  Much comment was exchanged in the church porch, after service, on the parson’s prayer.  24
  “We ought to hold a special meeting to pray that the Lord will not answer such a petition!” cried one indignant mother, whose little flock were clinging about her skirts, and who had left twin babies, yet unbaptized, at home.  25
  “It is rather hard on you, aunty!” said the graceless Jack Mason, the speaker’s nephew, now transformed into an unpromising young lawyer in Hartland. “You’d rather have your babies sin and suffer with you than have ’em safe in their little graves, hadn’t you? I don’t go with the parson myself. I didn’t so much mind his funeral gymnastic over old Baker, and his disposition of that party’s soul in Hades, because I never before supposed Roosevelt Baker had a soul, and it was quite reassuring to be certain he met with his dues somewhere; but he’s worse than Herod about the babies!”  26
  However, the parson did not hear or know what was said of him, and in an ignorance that was indeed bliss continued to preach and minister to his people in strict accordance with his own views of duty. His next essay was a pastoral visit to one of his flock, recently a widow, a woman weak in body and mind both; desirous above all things to be proper and like other people, to weep where she must, smile when she ought, wear clothes like the advance-guard of fashion, and do “the thing” to be done always, whether it was the right and true thing or not.  27
  Her husband had spent all her fortune in speculation, taken to drink as a refuge from folly and reproach at home, and under the influence of the consoling fluid had turned his wife out-of-doors whenever he felt in the mood; kicked her, beaten her, and forced her, in fear of her life, over and over to steal from her own house and take refuge with the neighbors, and ask from them the food she was not allowed at home. At last the end came. Parson Tucker was sent for to see the widow and arrange for funeral services. She had not been present at the Baker funeral, or indeed been in Deerford for some years after that occasion, so she adhered to the conventions; and when Parson Tucker reached the house he was shown into a darkened room, where the disconsolate woman sat posed already in deep mourning, a widow’s cap perched upon her small head. A woman would have inferred at once that Mrs. Spring had anticipated the end of Joe’s last attack of mania à potu, and prepared these funeral garments beforehand; but Thomas Tucker drew no such conclusions. He sat down silently and grimly, after shaking hands with Mrs. Spring, and said nothing. She began the conversation:—  28
  “This is a dreadful affliction, Mr. Tucker. I don’t know how I shall live through it.”  29
  “It is terrible, indeed,” said the parson. “I do not wonder, madam, that you mourn to see your partner cut off in his sins, without time for repentance; but no doubt you feel with gratitude the goodness which hath delivered you from so sore a burden.”  30
  “What?” screamed the widow.  31
  “I speak of God’s mercy in removing from your house one who made your life a terror, and your days full of fear and suffering; you might have been as others, bereaved and desolate, and mourning to your life’s end.”  32
  “I don’t know what you mean, Parson Tucker,” said Mrs. Spring sharply, removing a dry handkerchief from unwet eyes. “Poor dear Joseph is taken away from me, and I’m left a desolate widow, and you talk in this way! I’m sure he had the best of hearts that ever was; it was only, as you may say, accidental to him to be a little overcome at times, and I’m—I’m—o—h!”  33
  Here she gave a little hysterical scream, and did some well-executed sobbing; but the parson did not mind it. He rose up before her, gaunt and gray. “Madam, did not this man beat, and abuse, and insult, and starve you, when he was living? Or have I been misinformed?”  34
  “Well—oh dear, what dreadful questions!”  35
  “Did he?” thundered the parson.  36
  “He didn’t mean to; he was excited, Mr. Tucker. He—”  37
  “He was drunk. And is that excuse? Not so, madam. You know, and I know, that his death is a relief and a release to you. I cannot condole with you on that which is not a sorrow;” and he walked rigidly out of the door.  38
  Is it necessary to say that Mr. Spring’s funeral did not take place in Deerford? His widow suddenly remembered that he had been born in a small town among the hills of West Massachusetts, and she took his body thither, to be “laid beside his dear payrents,” as she expressed it.  39
  Things had now come to a bad pass for Parson Tucker. The church committee had held more than one conference over their duty toward him. It was obvious that they had no real reason for dismissing him but his ghastly honesty, and that hardly offers a decent excuse to depose a minister of the gospel. They hardly knew how to face the matter, and were in this state of perplexity when Mr. Tucker announced, one Sunday, after the sermon, that he would like to see the church committee at his study on Tuesday night; and accordingly they assembled there and found President Winthrop with the parson.  40
  “Brethren,” said Thomas Tucker, after the preliminary welcome had passed, “I have sent for you to-night to say, that having now been settled over your church eight years, I have found the salary you paid me so much more than was needed for my bodily support that I have laid by each year as the surplus came to hand, that I might restore to you your goods. The sum is now something over eight thousand dollars, and is placed to the credit of your chairman, in the First Deerford Bank.” The committee stared at each other as if each one were trying to arouse himself from sleep. The chairman at last spoke:—  41
  “But Mr. Tucker, this is unheard-of! The salary is yours; we do not desire to take it back; we can’t do it.”  42
  “That which I have not earned, Brother Street, is not mine. I am a solitary man; my expenses are light. It must be as I said. Moreover, I have to say that I hereby withdraw from your pulpit, of necessity. I have dealt with our best physicians concerning a certain anguish of the breast which seizes me at times unawares, and they all concur that an evil disease lieth upon me. I have not much time to live, and I would fain withdraw from activities and duties that are external, and prepare for the day that is at hand.”  43
  The committee were pained as well as shocked. They felt guilty to think how they had plotted this very thing among themselves; and they felt too a certain awe and deep respect for this simple unworldly nature, this supernatural integrity. Mr. Street spoke again; his voice was husky:—  44
  “If this is so, Mr. Tucker, we must of course accept your resignation; but my dear pastor, keep the money! You will need care and comforts, now this trouble has come on you. We can’t take it back.”  45
  Parson Tucker looked at him with a grave sweet smile. “I thank you, brother, but I have a private store. My sister left her worldly goods to me, and there is enough and to spare for my short sojourn,” he answered.  46
  “But it isn’t according to the fitness of things that we should take your salary back, Parson Tucker,” put in bustling Mr. Taylor. “What upon earth should we do with it?”  47
  “Friend,” said the parson, “the eternal fitness of things is but the outcome of their eternal verity. I have not, as I said, earned that wage, and I must restore it: it is for you to decide what end it shall serve in the church.”  48
  A few more words passed between them, and then each wrung the parson’s hand and left him, not all with unmoved hearts or dry eyes.  49
  “I don’t wonder he’s going to die!” exclaimed Mr. Street, as the committee separated at a street corner. “He’s altogether too honest to live!”  50
  From that day Thomas Tucker sank quietly toward his grave. Friends swarmed about him, and if delicacies of food could have saved him, the dainty stores poured in upon him would have renewed his youth; but all was in vain.  51
  President Winthrop sat by him one summer day, and seeing a sad gleam in his sunken eye, asked gently, “You are ready and willing to go, Brother Tucker?” nothing doubting a glad assent.  52
  But the parson was honest to the last. “No,” he said, “I do not want to die; I am afraid. I do not like strange and new things. I do not want to leave my books and my study.”  53
  “But, dear brother,” broke in the astonished president, “it is a going home to your Father’s house!”  54
  “I know not what a home is, friend, in the sense of regret or longing for one. My early home was but as the egg to the bird, a prison wherein I was born, from which I fled; nor was my knowledge of a father one that commends itself as a type of good. I trust, indeed, that the Master will take me by the hand, even as he did Peter upon the water; but the utterance of my secret soul is even that of the apostle with the keys: ‘Lord, save, or I perish!’”  55
  “But you have been a power for good, and a close follower of Peter’s Lord,” said Mr. Winthrop, altogether at a loss for the proper thing to say to this peculiar man.  56
  “One thing alone have I been enabled to do, Brother Winthrop, for which I can with heart and soul thank God, even at this hour. Yea, I thank him that I have been enabled to speak the truth even in the face of lies and deceptions, through his upholding.” A smile of unearthly triumph filled every line of the wasted face, and lit his eyes with a flash of divine light as he said this. He grasped close the friendly hand he was holding, turned his cheek to the pillow, and closed his eyes, passing into that life of truth and love that awaited him, even as a child that lies down in the darkness, trembling, fearful, and weary, but awakes, in the dawn of a new day, in the heart of home.  57
  “Still,” said President Winthrop to his wife, as they walked home after the funeral, “I believe in the good old proverb, Eleanor, that ‘the truth is not to be spoken at all times.’”  58
  “And I never believed in it so little!” she cried, indignantly. “Think what a record he has left; what respect hangs about his memory! Do we know how many weak souls have relied on his example, and held to the truth when it was hard, because he did and could? It is something to be heroic in these days, even if it is unpopular!”  59
  The president shrugged his shoulders.  60
 
 
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