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The Old Black Bull by Jonathan F. Kelley


It's poor human natur', all out, to wrangle and quarrel now and then, from the kitchen to the parlor, in church and state. Even the fathers of the holy tabernacle are not proof against this little weakness; for people will have passions, people will belong to meetin', and people will let their passions rise, even under the pulpit. But we have no distinct recollection of ever having known a misdirected, but properly interpreted letter, to settle a chuckly “plug muss,” so efficiently and happily as the case we have in point.

Old John Bulkley (grandson of the once famous President Chauncey ) was a minister of the gospel, and one of the best edicated men of his day in the wooden nutmeg State, when the immortal (or ought to be) Jonathan Trumbull was “around,” and in his youth. Mr. Bulkley was the first settled minister in the town of his adoption, Colchester, Connecticut. It was with him, as afterwards with good old brother Jonathan (Governor Trumbull, the bosom friend of General Washington), good to confer on almost any matter, scientific, political, or religious—any subject, in short, wherein common sense and general good to all concerned was the issue. As a philosophical reasoner, casuist, and good counselor, he was “looked up to,” and abided by.

It so fell out that a congregation in Mr. Bulkley's vicinity got to loggerheads, and were upon the apex of raising “the evil one” instead of a spire to their church, as they proposed and split upon. The very nearest they could come to a mutual cessation of the hostilities, was to appoint a committee of three, to wait on Mr. Bulkley, state their case, and get him to adjudicate. They waited on the old gentleman, and he listened with grave attention to their conflicting grievances.

“It appears to me,” said the old gentleman, “that this is a very simple case—a very trifling thing to cause you so much vexation.”

“So I say,” says one of the committee.

“I don't call it a trifling case, Mr. Bulkley,” said another.

“No case at all,” responded the third.

“It ain't, eh?” fiercely answered the first speaker.

“No, it ain't, sir!” quite as savagely replied the third.

“It's anything but a trifling case, anyhow,” echoed number two, “to expect to raise the minister's salary and that new steeple, too, out of our small congregation.”

“There is no danger of raising much out of you, anyhow, Mr. Johnson,” spitefully returned number one.

“Gentlemen, if you please—” beseechingly interposed the sage.

“I haven't come here, Mr. Bulkley, to quarrel,” said one.

“Who started this?” sarcastically answered Mr. Johnson.

“Not me, anyway,” number three replies.

“You don't say I did, do you?” says number one.


“Mr. Bulkley, you see how it is; there's Johnson—”

“Yes, Mr. Bulkley,” says Johnson, “and there's old Winkles, too, and here's Deacon Potter, also.”

“I am here,” stiffly replied the deacon, “and I am sorry the Reverend Mr. Bulkley finds me in such company, sir!”

“Now, gentlemen, brothers, if you please,” said Mr. Bulkley, “this is ridiculous,—”

“So I say,” murmured Mr. Winkles.

“As far as you are concerned, it is ridiculous,” said the deacon.

This brought Mr. Winkles up, standing.

“Sir!” he shouted, “sir!”

“But my dear sirs—” beseechingly said the philosopher.

“Sir!” continued Winkles, “sir! I am too old a man—too good a Christian, Mr. Bulkley, to allow a man, a mean, despicable toad, like Deacon Potter—”

“Do you call me—me a despicable toad?” menacingly cried the deacon.

“Brethren,” said Mr. Bulkley, “if I am to counsel you in your difference, I must have no more of this unchristian-like bickering.”

“I do not wish to bicker, sir,” said Johnson.

“Nor I don't want to, sir,” said the deacon, “but when a man calls me a toad, a mean, despicable toad—”

“Well, well, never mind,” said Mr. Bulkley; “you are all too excited now; go home again, and wait patiently; on Saturday evening next, I will have prepared and sent to you a written opinion of your case, with a full and free avowal of most wholesome advice for preserving your church from desolation and yourselves from despair.” And the committee left, to await his issue.

Now it chanced that Mr. Bulkley had a small farm, some distance from the town of Colchester, and found it necessary, the same day he wrote his opinion and advice to the brethren of the disaffected church, to drop a line to his farmer regarding the fixtures of said estate. Having written a long, and of course, elaborate “essay” to his brethren, he wound up the day's literary exertions with a despatch to the farmer, and after a reverie to himself, he directs the two documents, and next morning despatches them to their several destinations.

On Saturday evening a full and anxious synod of the belligerent churchmen took place in their tabernacle, and punctually, as promised, came the despatch from the Plato of the time and place,—Rev. John Bulkley. All was quiet and respectful attention. The moderator took up the document, broke the seal, opened and—a pause ensued, while dubious amazement seemed to spread over the features of the worthy president of the meeting.

“Well, brother Temple, how is it—what does Mr. Bulkley say?” and another pause followed.

“Will the moderator please proceed?” said another voice.

The moderator placed the paper upon the table, took off his spectacles, wiped the glasses, then his lips—replaced his specs upon his nose, and with a very broad grin, said:

“Brethren, this appears to me to be a very singular letter, to say the least of it!”

“Well, read it—read it,” responded the wondering hearers.

“I will,” and the moderator began:

“You will see to the repair of the fences, that they be built high and strong, and you will take special care of the old Black Bull.”

There was a general pause; a silent mystery overspread the community; the moderator dropped the paper to a “rest,” and gazing over the top of his glasses for several minutes, nobody saying a word.

“Repair the fences!” muttered the moderator at length.

“Build them strong and high!” echoed Deacon Potter.

“Take special care of the old Black Bull!” growled half the meeting.

Then another pause ensued, and each man eyed his neighbor in mute mystery.

A tall and venerable man now arose from his seat; clearing his voice with a hem, he spoke:

“Brethren, you seem lost in the brief and eloquent words of our learned adviser. To me nothing could be more appropriate to our case. It is just such a profound and applicable reply to us as we should have hoped and looked for, from the learned and good man, John Bulkley. The direction to repair the fences, is to take heed in the admission and government of our members; we must guard the church by our Master's laws, and keep out stray and vicious cattle from the fold! And, above all things, set a trustworthy and vigilant watch over that old black bull, who is the devil, and who has already broken into our enclosures and sought to desolate and lay waste the fair grounds of our church!”

The effect of this interpretation was electrical. All saw and took the force of Mr. Bulkley's cogent advice, and unanimously resolved to be governed by it; hence the old black bull was put hors du combat, and the church preserved its union!


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