Mysterious Room [1/18]

LEGENDS OF OLD BEDFORD.

——♦——

THE MYSTERIOUS ROOM.

———

First evening.

Priscilla, you go to bed; I’m the one the gentleman wants to see,” was the imperative command of Sally, the elder of two spinster sisters, to the younger.

It was a winter night. The flames of the broad, open fireplace, in the absence of the needless candle, made more sharp and vivid the shadows on the opposite wall, not only of Priscilla, but a neighboring swain, Amariah Quimby, whose glances of inquiry seemed to alternate from the face of doubtful years to the stars, plainly visible through the broad chimney, up which the hickory smoke was winding. [*1]

The pertinacity of the angular creature, whose command opens our story, made it evident to the youthful suitor that no advances from him could be received there, unless made to the one who had just entered, whose age gave her the precedence in household affairs and which she determined, as did also her aged parents, should give her the first right to the attention of the gentlemen. Having no desire to submit himself to the whims of that angular personage with the aquiline nose, Amariah took down his three cornered hat from the old oaken peg, cast a farewell

[ p 10 ]

glance at Priscilla, for he had tender feelings towards her, and hastened home, adding another to the long list of those who had met with similar disappointment.

[ interior sketch ]
[[ The Living Room. ]]
“Priscilla, you go to bed; I’m the one the gentleman wants to see.”

The other members of the family are two broad-shouldered, hard-fisted brothers and the father and mother of the four children, both far advanced in life. A homespun gown of blue was the every day costume of the girls, while that of the boys was a loose skirted frock and trousers of home manufacture. A broad, ruffled cap and kerchief of blue and white plaid, carefully folded over the shoulders, finished the mother’s costume. That of the boys was good enough for the father, with an added fixture in the way of a broad leather apron that saved the home-

[ p 11 ]

spun frock and breeches, which latter came only to the knee to meet the long stockings that completed the dress of the lower limbs. The ancestral dwelling, facing square to the south, had never known the painter’s brush outside or in. On entering it, one step down was taken, thus bringing the floors a little below the level of the ground. Their white surfaces revealed no lack of faithful scouring, neither did the amply shelved dresser, on which was arranged in maidenish precision the scanty supply of pewter and time-honored blue ware.

The singing of the huge-mouthed tea-kettle on the crane, with the hum of the ever busy wheel, furnished the music for the living room. The sameness of the best room was broken by the well-sanded floor, where grotesque figures of the broom showed an attempt at an artistic flourish; the solid mahogany table, its surface waxed and rubbed until the copy of Holy Writ that lay upon it, was mirrored to double thickness; and the closely curtained bed of down in the corner; these, with a few straight-backed chairs against the wall, made the company room. Few visitors came here, so there was little use for this apartment. Of the upper rooms one only, that dingy north-east corner with its bars and bolts, interests the reader. None but the stealthy footstep of the tyrannical owner ever stopped at its threshold. What was within and what became of a slowly accumulating wealth, none knew, other than he whose “Don’t you dare!” sent a chill through every member of the household, held in subjection through fear of the husband and father. [^1]

To live in this house with any degree of safety, to say nothing of comfort, was to be perfectly submis-

[ p 12 ]

sive to the iron will wrapped up in a little, wrinkled, bowed, weird figure, whose address as father was obtained through fear rather than respect, on the part of the four children, who were kept from securing the benefit to be obtained from the few weeks of school that the town provided, because of the ever increasing penuriousness of this narrow minded parent. [*2]

The godly minister of the town, after much anxiety, called at the home of the Pendletons, and in the discharge of his duty asked for the tottering sire, when the good wife meekly answered, “He’s in that room and I am afraid to call him, for he always comes out in a rage if I call him for any other purpose than to come to his meals or to take money; he won’t dare to say anything to you or when you are here, but when you are gone he’ll act the worse and scold the more; but I’ll call him, for you are aware that no one on earth dares to go to that room.” With these words the good woman left the room.

Mr. Whitford regretted that he was liable to be the occasion of another scolding from the head of this family to a most faithful companion, yet, with the hope that he might be the means of doing good, he allowed him to be thus called.

“Father, you’d better come down and see Parson Whitford,” were the words echoed through the unfinished rooms above, soon followed by the sound of the clumsy key being turned in the rusty lock and the clattering of the hard brogans of the father of the Pendleton family.

“Eh, eh — good morning, Parson Whitford. How do you do this cold morning?” were the words of salutation that met a warm response from the rever-

[ p 13 ]

end gentleman, while the smile on the little russet face showed plainly that his “good morning” was only superficial.

”Mr. Pendleton,” said Parson Whitford, “I came up to tell you that a friend of mine is about to open a private school in the village and I want you to send the children.”

“Eh, eh,” began the little man, Mr. Pendleton had a slight catch in his speech which served as a prelude to his remarks and was generally regarded by the family as a warning of something unpleasant to follow. “Eh, eh — send them great boys and gals to school, big enough to go to meetin’ barefoot, send ’em to school? I guess not; and I guess they’d be ashamed to be seen there anyhow.”

“But,” continued the pastor, “the expense is not great.”

“Eh, eh — expense, hey? Do you think I’m going to send myself to the town for the sake of eddicating them children?” interrupted the little man.

“No, Mr. Pendleton, I know very well you can send them without laying yourself liable to any suffering and with no sacrifice on your part that you will ever feel, for we all know that you have a plenty of this world’s goods,” continued the good pastor.

“Eh, eh — I guess you are talking about what you don’t know,” replied the little man with a scuff of the feet, plainly telling to the good wife that the wrath of her husband was getting fully aroused, and the dreaded outburst was not far distant. But, thought she, if he will only keep calm till Mr. Whitford is gone, I will bear it without a word of complaint.

[ p 14 ]

Like many a faithful wife, Mrs. Pendleton was willing to suffer alone rather than expose the faults of her husband, and she was a sufferer too. Only a small part of the management of the household came to her, save to spin, churn and plan to have her sons and daughters decently attired on Sundays, and comfortable on week days.

“Now, Mr. Pendleton,” continued the minister, “I feel it my duty as the clergyman of this town, and your pastor, as well as that of a friend, to plainly say to you, that to allow your sons and daughters to go on in life with no more advantages than they have enjoyed, is a great wrong. I know they are quite well advanced in life and to some might seem too old to attend school, but the one we are to have this winter is for adults and they won’t feel out of place there. And,” he continued, “Mr. Pendleton, I fear if your children ever come in possession of your wealth they will spend it unwisely, because of the little opportunity they have had of mingling with others and securing the knowledge necessary to make their way in the world.”

Mr. Pendleton bore this plain talk from his pastor with as much grace as it was possible for him to show, and, with an occasional scuff of the feet, suppressed his wrath, while Mr. Whitford, determined to do his full duty, added, “Mr. Pendleton, I fear you are breaking the commandment, ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before Me,’ [^2] and that your god is locked up in that room where you spend so much of your time, [^3] but you must know, brother Pendleton,” striving to touch the heart of the little russet-faced man by introducing a more familiar address, “that the time is not far distant when you and I must

[ p 15 ]

leave all that we have accumulated here and give an account of our stewardship to the great Judge above.”

“Eh, eh — leave all, hey? Well, I guess I shan’t have much to leave, and if I did as you want me to, I shouldn’t have enough to bury me,” replied Mr. Pendleton, with the emphasis of a double scuff of his feet.

[ interior sketch ]
The Parson and the Miser.

“Now, my friend,” said the good pastor, rising to go, “I hope your money will spend well and that you will see that you are not fully discharging your duty towards the children whom your kind, Heavenly Father has given you, in depriving them of an ordinary education. There is a very homely saying which is replete with truth, ‘What is got over the devil’s back goes under his feet,’ [*3] and I feel that robbing children of an ordinary means of obtaining a living, is a kind of cheating, and I doubt not, Mr.

[ p 16 ]

Pendleton, at some future time, those idols I have reason to believe you are carving out in that lonely room, will fall down and crush you or your blameless children, and God forbid, even bring trouble to your faithful wife in this world. You know full well the Kingdom of Heaven has no mansion for any one who prefers other Gods than Jehovah and seeks for salvation through any other source than His Son.”

After a word of encouragement, kindly given to the trembling mother, who had ventured from the kitchen on observing that the conversation was drawing to a close, the good pastor retired, and the miserly tyrant crept off to his den without a word that had been feared by his faithful companion and the girls, who soon appeared from their hiding places. Sally at once went with her broom to the best room, where their pastor had been entertained, and repaired the figures in the sanding as well as she could, while Priscilla revived the hum of the great wheel. As soon as Mr. Whitford’s chaise was well down the hill, Seth and Saul, the two sons, came from the rickety barn, where they tremblingly did the father’s bidding when he was at home, and with some degree of confidence, planned for an attack on the iron bound apartment when he was away. When the time came for carrying out their plans, they somehow lost what courage they had and, partly because of their regard for their mother, failed to carry out any attack that they had hoped to make.

The drifting snow that whistled about the house, together with the intense interest of this evening’s story, for grandma was in her happiest mood, had so charmed the listener that he now, for the first time, broke out with indignation, “Well, grandma, I should say those folks were fools to be so run over

[ p 17 ]

by that old man. I wish I had been one of them, I would have upset his den and found out what he had there that made him such a terror to all the folks.”

“Ah, but my child,” said grandma, “if you had been one of them you would have done no better. You must know, or will some day learn, that when people are kept down and hardly allowed to think for themselves, they grow up with a very different spirit from that which controls people who are sent to school and clothed so that they feel at ease in the company of others, and mingle with the outside world. Why, my child, there was no such thing as a newspaper or book in that home, and the almanac was about all they had except the Bible, and those four children had so little learning that they could read them with but little understanding. I tell you, Ned, that people kept under as they were all their early life, have but little courage. It is impossible for you to fully appreciate their position, for these times are so very different from the days when Hezekiah Pendleton ruled that household, but you can learn from what I tell you of these people, to more fully appreciate the blessings with which you are surrounded and cease wishing you were rich as I so often hear you express it, for you must see from what I have already told you that wealth did not bring contentment or even comfort in this case.”

“But, grandma, will you tell me what Mr. Pendleton did all the time in that dark room?” anxiously inquired the boy, seeing that grandma was about to close the story for the evening.

“Well, my child, you will have to wait until another evening, I guess, for I have a good deal more

[ p 18 ]

that I can tell you about the family and their associates which I hope will be of profit to you as well as amusement. The question you have now asked me was the subject of wonder and speculation fully twenty years in this community; some would say he was there alone in meditation with God, but they would soon give up that idea, knowing that one who meditated upon the mind and character of the Divine One could not conduct himself as he did for a single day, to say nothing of years. Some thought he was in league with the ruler of the realm of darkness, but as his family and the town-folks had to wait till death opened the door, I think it won’t be unreasonable for you to wait awhile; but don’t spend your time in wondering over that question, rather seek to be contented, and by doing your duty show that you appreciate your many blessings.”

With a good-night from the venerable lady, the happy youth was soon asleep to dream of that mysterious room.


SOURCE TEXT


EMENDATIONS

  1. dare!” ∨ dare,”
  2. gods before Me,’
    ∨ Gods before me,’
  3. god ∨ God

ANNOTATIONS

  1. “swain”: suitor
  2. “penuriousness”: miserliness
  3. The more standard form of this proverb was (evidently)
    “What is got over the devil’s back goes under his belly.”

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