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"First Aid" from Christian Herald

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from Christian Herald
First Aid
by Ellis Parker Butler

The Reverend Thomas Rintaw Macdonald and his wife, from the city, were spending the summer on John Benton's farm in the valley -- "Blessed Valley," Mrs. Macdonald called it.

On the day of their arrival, Mrs. Benton told them of Henry Tucker's visit to heaven, of how, when he was sitting in a chair under his trees one Sabbath afternoon with his wife in her chair close beside him, he had been called by a voice and found himself being lifted up beyond the trees, up through the blue of the sky. Mary Tucker, seated so near him that she could touch him by reaching out her hand, had seen a sudden whiteness come upon his face. He had seemed to grasp the arms of the chair with a tighter grip, and so -- in apparent death -- he had sat there.

"Somehow," Mrs. Benton said, "Mary wasn't frightened. She thought Henry was dead but, same time, she knew he wasn't. She touched his hand and it was ice cold. He did not breathe. So Mary sat there, her hand on his, and waited. 'I knew he would come back,' is what she told me." They had been sitting, it seemed, under the trees at the back of the house, near the beehives. People passed along the road in cars or driving horses but, of course, no one stopped. An hour went by, two hours, three hours.

"It got along to supper time," Mrs. Benton said, "but Mary just sat there. The sun got to the edge of the hill and began to go behind it. It started to get a little cool and Mary said, as natural as ever, 'It's time you came back, Henry,' just as if she was saying 'It's time to go in, Henry,' but he did not give a sign, so she said it again -- 'It's time you came back, Henry,' and he came back. His hand got warm again, he moved in his chair. 'I've been to heaven, Mary,' he said."

"And he told what he saw there?" Mrs. Macdonald asked.

'First Aid' by Ellis Parker Butler

"He told Mary, yes," Mrs. Benton said, "and come next Sabbath he told it in church, piece by piece and bit by bit, just like it had happened, all he saw and all he did and what it was like. I guess there's no doubt he'd been there. He's a truth-telling man."

July passed and August drew to a close and the time for Macdonald and his wife to leave drew near -- so near that it was the next day. The sun had gone behind the western hill, but there was still to be an hour of afterglow, often the most beautiful hour of the day, when the dominie saw Henry Tucker and his wife Mary walking up the road toward the Bentons'. They turned in at the Benton driveway and saw Macdonald and his wife sitting on the porch and, instead of going to the back door as everyone did when wanting to see the farmer or his wife, they crossed the lawn to the porch. Henry Tucker took off his hat.

"We heard how as you was going back to town tomorrow," he said, "so we made bold to come up."

"And more than welcome," the dominie assured him with his friendly smile. "Come up and sit awhile, won't you?"

"We'd pleasure to," Tucker said, and the dominie brought a chair from the far end of the porch, and Mrs. Macdonald said a few words to make Tucker's wife feel welcome. When Tucker had seated himself he seemed uneasy and hardly listened to what the dominie said about hating to leave the beautiful valley. His wife watched him as if expecting him to speak, and finally she spoke for him.

"Something has been fretting Henry this long while," she said, "and that's why I urged him to talk to you about it, thinking maybe you could give him ease somehow. Seemed like this was our last chance, with you going back to town tomorrow. Brother Gaines is so hard and fast, some ways --"

It flashed through the dominie's mind that he knew what was troubling Henry Tucker, that the man had begun to doubt the reality of the amazing experience of which he had told everyone, and that he was torn between the duty of confessing his doubt and the distress of denying now the validity of an event in which the whole valley had complete belief. He readied out and put his hand on the old man's shoulder for a moment -- a comforting and reassuring contact. He sought for the word to say, but Mrs. Tucker spoke again.

"Henry don't want to go to heaven," she said.

"He don't want --" the dominie exclaimed, but Mrs. Tucker was not through.

"He's been so worried and so miserable -- he's fretted so over it," she said, beginning to weep silently. "Both of us have been so unhappy this long time. So I urged him to come and lay it before you. We couldn't seem, somehow, to go to Brother Gaines, and you seemed such a kindly man."

"Tell me about it," said the dominie.

Henry Tucker ran his gnarled hands down the smooth knees of his trousers several times before he spoke. His eyes looked off across the wide valley, past the yellow-green of the near trees to the hazy blue-green now deepening against the hills, and soon to be purple.

"You heard tell I was in heaven awhile," he said presently.

"I heard that -- yes," the dominie said. "It is not that you are beginning to doubt that you actually had that experience?"

"Oh, no!" said Tucker with simple assurance. "I was there."

"He was there," said Tucker's wife. "It was like Brother Gaines says it is. He went in at the pearly gates and he walked the streets of gold; there was a crown on his head and a harp in his hand; he was robed in white and he sang in the heavenly choir."

"I done my best," Tucker explained; "I ain't much of a singer."

There was a silence while the dominie waited for one or the other to continue.

"I didn't like it there," Tucker said after a moment or two. "First off, after I come back, I talked a lot, I guess. Seems like I was a good deal excited, one way and another. I don't say it ain't beyond anything mortal eyes ever see, in glory and grandness. I don't like cities, I guess."

"He wasn't comfortable there," Tucker's wife explained again. "He don't want to go back."

"It was grand beyond words," Tucker said. "It was a sight to see. The glory of the New Jerusalem is beyond words to tell of it; that's the truth." But he added, "I always dress sort of common."

"He didn't feel natural with a crown on and dressed in just a white robe-like," Mrs. Tucker said. "He felt nervous."

"I never was much of a singer," Tucker said. "I'd be sort of scared to play on a harp, the sort of noise I'd get out of it."

"There was so many folks, too, Henry," Mrs. Tucker reminded him.

"Like in cities," Henry said. "Like always in cities. Crowds of folks; a man feels sort of lost in a crowd like that, and pushed upon. I wasn't anyways comfortable, city folks and all."

"And the mansions, Henry," prompted Mrs. Tucker.

"I like the house we've got," Tucker said. "It suits me, my house does. It's big enough for me and Mary -- and for John and Edward and Ruth, if they're to be with us. It's a comfortable house. I wouldn't feel at home in a mansion, I guess."

"And you, Mrs. Tucker?" asked the dominie.

"If Henry was there, and the children," she said, "I'd put up with it, if 'twas to be. I'd aim to be satisfied wherever Henry was. I wouldn't be happy if Henry wasn't."

"You don't like cities," the dominie said. "What do you like?"

Tucker's eyes were still on the hills across the valley, but now he lifted his hand and drew it in a half-circle the sweep of which included all the far green valley and the hills on either side.

"I like this," he said; "I like this valley; I like the trees and the hills and the meadows, and the green of it. I ain't ever had enough of this valley. This is the way I'd like heaven to be."

"Then this is the way heaven will be, for you," said the dominie. "This is a good earth, Henry Tucker, and there are cities for those who like cities, and seas for those who like the sea, and green valleys for those who like the pleasant farmland. Why should you think that heaven can give you less than the earth can give?"

"All I saw was town and folks," said Henry. "Gold streets and the like of that."

"Well, Henry," said Mrs. Tucker, "you know you ain't much of a hand to poke around and find out things."

"I was sort of exasperated, I guess," Henry admitted. "It did not strike me to ask if there was hills and such outside of town."

"You may be sure there is country as pleasant as this," said the dominie and Henry was satisfied. He sat in content, listening to the voice of Reverend Thomas Rintaw Macdonald. The purple gathered against the hills, the whippoorwill took up its echoing call, a night-heron flew across the valley with its cry. Mrs. Benton, her work done, came out to sit awhile, and presently Henry Tucker said he thought it was time for him to he getting along. He held out his hand and the dominie grasped it, and the clasp of Henry Tucker's hand was warm and firm and grateful.

"Well," he said; "Well, we hope you see your way to come back to the valley next summer, sir," and his voice was unworried.

"Yes," said Mrs. Tucker, "we hope so, the both of us." She went down the dusky road with her hand on Henry Tucker's arm, homeward.



Saturday, October 07 at 1:18:54am USA Central
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