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Aldrich, Thomas Bailey, 1836-1907 [1874], Prudence Palfrey: a novel. (James R. Osgood and Company, Boston) [word count] [eaf450T].
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I. In which Parson Wibird Hawkins retires from Business.

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Parson Wibird Hawkins was in trouble.
The trouble was not of a pecuniary nature,
for the good man had not only laid up treasures
in heaven, but had kept a temporal eye
on the fluctuations of real estate in Rivermouth,
and was the owner of three or four of
the nicest houses in Hollyhock Row. Nor was
his trouble of a domestic nature, whatever it
once might have been, for Mrs. Wibird Hawkins
was dead this quarter of a century. Nor
was it of the kind that sometimes befalls
too susceptible shepherds, for the parson had
reached an age when the prettiest of his flock
might have frisked about him without stirring
a pulse.

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His trouble was the trouble of all men who,
having played their parts nearly if not quite to
the end, persist in remaining on the stage to
the exclusion of more fiery young actors who
have their pieces to speak and their graces to
show off. These hapless old men do not
perceive that the scene has been changed
meanwhile, that twenty or thirty or forty years
are supposed to have elapsed; it never occurs
to them that they are not the most presentable
poets, lunatics, and lovers, until the audience
rises up and hoots them, gray hairs
and all, from the foot-lights.

Parson Wibird Hawkins had been prattling
innocently to half-averted ears for many a summer
and winter. The parish, as a parish, had
become tired of old man Hawkins. After fifty
years he had begun to pall on them. For fifty
years he had christened them and married them
and buried them, and held out to them the
slightest possible hopes of salvation, in accordance
with their own grim theology; and now
they wanted to get rid of him, and he never
once suspected it, — never suspected it, until
that day when the deacons waited upon him in

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his study in the cobwebbed old parsonage, and
suggested the expediency of his retirement
from active parochial duties. Even then he
did not take in the full import of the deacons'
communication. Retire from the Lord's
vineyard just when his experience was ripest
and his heart fullest of his Master's work,—
surely they did not mean that! Here he was
in his prime, as it were; only seventy-nine
last Thanksgiving. He had come among them
a young man fresh from the University on
the Charles, he had given them the enthusiasm
of his youth and the wisdom of his mature
manhood, and he would, God willing,
continue to labor with them to the end. He
would die in the harness. It was his prayer
that when the Spirit of the Lord came to
take him away, it might find him preaching
His word from the pulpit of the Old Brick

“It was very good of you, Deacon Wendell,
and you, Deacon Twombly,” said the poor old
parson, wiping the perspiration from his brow
with a large red silk handkerchief dotted with
yellow moons; “it was, I must say, very

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considerate in you to think that I might wish to
rest awhile after all these years of labor; but
I cannot entertain the idea for a moment.”

He had got it into his head that the deacons
were proposing a vacation to him, were possibly
intending to send him to Europe on a tour
through Palestine, as the Saint Ann's parish
had sent the Rev. Josiah Jones the year

“Not,” he went on, “but I should like to
visit the Holy Land and behold with my own
eyes the places made sacred by the footsteps
of our Saviour,—Jerusalem, and Jordan, and
the Mount of Olives,—ah! I used to dream
of that; but my duties held me here then, and
now I cannot bring myself to desert, even
temporarily, the flock I have tended so long.
Why, I know them all by face and name, and
love them all, down to the latest ewe-lamb.”

The latest ewe-lamb, by the way, was Deacon
Twombly's, and the allusion made him feel
very uncomfortable indeed. He glaneed uneasily
at Deacon Wendell, and Deacon Wendell
glanced covertly at him, and they both
wished that the duty of dismissing Parson

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Hawkins had fallen upon somebody else. But
the duty was to be performed. The matter
had been settled, and the new minister all but
decided on, before the deacons went up to the
parsonage that afternoon. Even before the
king was cold, his subjects had in a manner
thrown up their caps for the next in succession.
All this had not been brought about,
however, without a struggle.

Some of the less progressive members of the
parish clung to the ancient order of things.
Parson Wibird had been their main-stay in
life, sickness, and death for full half a century;
they had sprung to manhood and grown
gray under his ministrations, and they held it
a shame to throw him over now that his voice
was a little tremulous and his manner not
quite so vigorous as it was. They acknowledged
he was not the man he used to be. He
wrote no new sermons now; he was turning
the barrel upside-down, and his latest essay
dated back as far as 1850. They admitted it
was something of a slip he made, in resurrecting
one of those by-gone sermons, to allude to
General Jackson as “our lately deceased

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President”; but then the sermon was a good
sermon, enough sight better than those sugary
discourses without a word of sound doctrine
in 'em, which they had listened to from
flibberty-jibberty young ministers from the
city. There was one of them the other day,—
the Sabbath Parson Hawkins was ill,—who
preached all about somebody named Darwin.
Who was Darwin? Darwin was n't one of
the Apostles.

“Fur my part,” said Mr. Wiggins, the
butcher, “I'll be shot ef I don't stan' by the
parson. He buried my Merriah Jane fur me,
an' I don't forgit it nuther.”

As it was notorious that the late Maria Jane
had led Mr. Wiggins something of a dance in
this life, the unconscious sarcasm of his gratitude
caused ill-natured people to smile.

Uncle Jedd, the sexton of the Old Brick
Church, threatened never to dig another grave
if they turned off Parson Wibird. Uncle Jedd
had a loose idea that such a course on his
part would make it rather embarrassing for
Rivermouth folks. “Ther' is graves an' ther'
is holes,” Uncle Jedd would say; “I makes

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graves, myself, an' I'm th' only man in th'
county thet can.”

Unfortunately the parson's supporters constituted
the minority, and not an influential
minority. The voice of the parish was for the
dismissal of the Rev. Wibird Hawkins, and
dismissed he should be.

Deacons Wendell and Twombly found their
mission perplexing. “We tried to let him
down easy, of course,” remarked Deacon Zeb
Twombly, relating the circumstance afterwards
to a group of eager listeners in Odiorne's grocery-store;
“but, Lord bless you, you never
see an old gentleman so unwillin' and so hard
to be let down.” The parson persisted in not
understanding the drift of the deacons' proposition
until, at last, they were forced to use
the most explicit language, and in no way
soften the blow which they suspected rather
than knew would be a heavy one, however
adroitly delivered. But when, finally, he was
made to comprehend the astounding fact that
the Old Brick Church of Rivermouth actually
wished him to relinquish his pastorate, then
the aged clergyman bowed his head, and, waving

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his hands in a sort of benediction over the
two deacons, retreated slowly, with his chin
on his breast, into a little room adjoining the
study, leaving the pillars of the church standing
rather awkwardly in the middle of the

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Aldrich, Thomas Bailey, 1836-1907 [1874], Prudence Palfrey: a novel. (James R. Osgood and Company, Boston) [word count] [eaf450T].
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