Mysterious Room [10/18]

Tenth evening.

[ house sketch ]
The Meeting House.

In many of the early settlements of New England, the first matters that received the attention of the pioneers were the founding of a church and the settlement of a pastor. He was ordained with very impressive ceremonies, and his term of service was not expected to end until death. Parson Whitford spent his life with the people of this town, and was sincerely mourned at his death.

Rev. Mr. Jones, who had completed his farm buildings, had an eye for the pastorate, and sought an opportunity to be heard, in fact, did go so far as to make himself rather obnoxious to the people; and when he found he was not to be called to the vacant pulpit, he became very morose and said many bitter things and manifested anything but a Christian spirit.

The good folks kept on wondering what he was going to do with his new buildings. “Fine chance

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for somebody,” [^1] said Hannah Nibbs one day when calling at the Pendletons and sympathizing with the family.

Mr. Briggs was now very busy with his own duties and the added cares of the Pendletons; but the increased burden was lightened by the willingness of the family to do whatever the administrator suggested; and had they not felt called upon to submit so much to him for decision, the duties would not have absorbed so much of his time. One day, when Mr. Briggs was very busy about his farm work, Saul came down the hill at a rapid pace and demanded his immediate presence at the house. Feeling that the case was urgent, he responded, expecting to find Seth in an intoxicated state over there making a disturbance, as he was the only member of the family that gave him any trouble whatever; but on reaching the house he found everything quiet and no appearance of Seth’s having been there for some days. The occasion of the call was ascertained when Sally opened the door to the great brick oven and showed the mop that Priscilla had placed there to dry. They had been baking in the oven during the day, and there being a little heat left, Priscilla thought it a good time to dry the mop. This was out of the regular order of things. The Pendletons were very neat, although Hannah did insinuate that such was not the case, and Sally could not allow her to make this departure, hence a dispute arose which seemed to be coming to a serious pass when it was decided that Mr. Briggs should come, and whatever he said was right should meet with the family approval. He took the mop from the oven and, after giving a little advice as to some phy-

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sical treatment, returned to his home, somewhat amused, to be sure, yet feeling gratified that the family were so ready to accept his decisions.

In regard to the property, the law was to direct the division, there being no will. The contents of the mysterious room were divided very soon, each having a share. [^2] Saul was to carry on the farm for a while and have the income of it for the support of his mother, while the girls were to have their living at home as long as they remained and administered to the wants of her who, through many privations, had faithfully cared for them. Saul could not manage the work of the farm without the aid of his sisters. They were as handy as men at almost any department of the farm work. They always did the milking, and could hold the plough as skilfully as Seth or Saul.

Things went on very comfortably for a season, but new burdens were to be taken up and new responsibilities were to be assumed. How to invest the amounts which they had already in their possession, was an important question, and when to say “no” to the various parties who beset them on every hand with all sorts of attractions, was a matter difficult to decide. Hanson Page had already persuaded Saul to buy his “brindles” at a fabulous price, and a long shining chain now hung from his homespun waistcoat; but the watch was such as Ike Fuller would be expected to sell, and not to be relied upon.

It was fortunate for Sally and Priscilla that they had taken Mrs. Briggs for an adviser. Dolly was a true friend, and when they followed her advice it was to their advantage. Many who had made sport of the Pendletons in earlier years, began to court

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their society, and, I am sorry to say, some of them sought not for the companionship of the members of the family as much as they did for the advantage which they might get over them, who, in almost every transaction where money was involved, were imposed upon, unless they took the advice of Mr. Briggs or his wife. The reason of this was their neglected childhood. Never having been trusted with responsibilities while their father lived, they knew but little how to assume them now, and not having had money to spend they were illy prepared to use it to their advantage now that they had it in their possession.

Mr. Jones had completed his buildings, and for some months had been conducting the business of his farm by the aid of a housekeeper, but when he was obliged to conclude that he was not wanted to fill the pulpit made vacant by the death of Mr. Whitford, he at once decided that he could manage things alone, so dismissed his faithful servant and decided that he would not try to make his home attractive to the public.

Early in the spring following the death of Mr. Pendleton, Mr. Jones drove one afternoon into the Briggs’ yard, tied the old white horse to the block, and pleasantly saluted Mrs. Briggs, who, having seen him from her window, was at the door before he had smoothed down the wig which hid his bald head and scanty gray locks. She made him welcome. He was a man of but few words, and when he had any business to do, came to it without indulging in many preliminaries. It was an uncommon thing for Mr. Jones to call in this way at the home of the Briggs, [^3] hence Mrs. Dolly was confident that something important

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and uncommonly pressing had caused him to come out, which she soon found to be the case.

“Mrs. Briggs, I need a wife,” he abruptly said, “and I have come to secure your assistance in the matter.”

“Indeed,” said Mrs. Briggs, with an inflection and look that awakened courage in the caller. “This is a very important step for any one to take, and it is not reasonable to suppose that every one can fill the important position of a minister’s wife. Whom were you thinking of centering your affections upon, may I ask?”

“Well, Mrs. Briggs,” said Mr. Jones, giving his chair a little hitch and looking at either side to be sure that no one was near to overhear the secret he was about to entrust to her, “I had been thinking that Priscilla Pendleton would be just the one for me, and knowing that she and the whole family are very intimate friends of yours, I have called, after much prayerful consideration, to ask you if you would be so kind and obliging as to ascertain if a call from me would be agreeable to Miss Priscilla, the younger of the promising ladies.”

“Perhaps you are not aware that it is a plan in the family that Sally, the older, must be married first,” said Mrs. Briggs.

“Yes, madam, I am aware of that; but perhaps as they are now differently situated, they may be willing to abandon that plan,” replied the persistent seeker.

On receiving a favorable reply from Mrs. Briggs, the clergyman retired, promising to call in a few days and learn what impression was made by the proposition. The call and the occasion of it were

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reported to Mr. Briggs on his arrival home, and they both concluded that even the minister had an eye to this world’s goods, and both feared that it was money which he was seeking for, as well as a wife, but it was evident to all that he did need a companion, and Mr. and Mrs. Briggs both thought he was wise in his choice.

Betsey, a black-eyed niece of Mrs. Briggs, had recently come to make her home with her aunt, and had now for the first time learned something of the Pendleton family, as she had overheard the conversation between her aunt and Mr. Jones.

Mrs. Briggs was as good as her word, and soon called on the Pendletons and laid the matter before the family. At first Sally made strong objections, and insisted that as she was the older she must be married first, and that by right she ought to have the proposal; yet when convinced that the minister was decided and that it must be Priscilla or neither, she reluctantly concluded that she would give way and let Priscilla have the offer, realizing that this might make way for herself.

Mrs. Briggs soon made it convenient to inform Mr. Jones that his attention would be agreeably received, and he promised to call again and notify her when the first visit should be made; as she had confidentially suggested to make a head dress for Priscilla that she might be in an attractive attire when the clergyman should make his first call, believing that first impressions were lasting.

Betsey had some modern ideas of millinery and promised to aid her aunt in the work of preparing Priscilla for the visit. The Pendleton girls were not very particular about their dress when about home,

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and Mrs. Briggs was in hopes to have an opportunity to procure lace, and with the assistance of her niece, to make a tasty cap for Priscilla before the first meeting; but before the opportunity came, as Mrs. Briggs was leaving her home with the purpose of calling on the Pendletons for an afternoon chat, she looked down the road towards the village and saw Mr. Jones’ white-faced horse coming towards her. Believing that the minister was out for the important call, she started Josiah across lots to notify Miss Priscilla that she might make preparations. When Mr. Jones overtook Mrs. Briggs, he drew up his horse and asked her to ride, telling her that he was about to make the proposed call. Mrs. Briggs felt it to be her duty to reprimand the reverend gentleman, a very bold thing for any one to do in those days. Said she, “You are not doing according to your agreement, for you promised to give me due notice, and I had arranged to notify the lady. I am afraid she won’t be ready for this call.”

“Never mind about that,” said the suitor, “I shan’t be so likely to be deceived.”

If they had known what was in his heart, they would have seen that it was not necessary to make any change in dress, for truly, I must confess, that it afterwards proved that money was the first object of Mr. Jones’ search, and a wife was a secondary matter. A clergyman should have had a better motive, as a minister of the gospel is expected to be exemplary in every particular. While driving leisurely along, the old horse came to a sudden stop.

“Is your horse contrary, Mr. Jones?” said his companion.

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“No — no,” replied the clergyman; “he has only stopped to take breath.”

With his lungs well inflated, he started on and soon reached the top of the hill. While Mr. Jones was making his horse secure, Mrs. Briggs hastened in to the aid of Priscilla, who was already doing her best to make a fine appearance, Josiah having warned her of the coming event. It was in the same room that Amariah Quimby received his lasting rebuff, that Rev. Mr. Jones met a cordial welcome; but things had changed — some years had passed, age was creeping on, making unmistakable furrows in the faces of both Sally and her fairer sister; the tyrant had been called from his den; the mysterious room had given up its contents; its treasures were divided, and in some instances were being rapidly scattered. Mrs. Briggs managed soon to have an excuse for leaving the room and succeeded in calling out the mother and Sally as well, so that the room was left with only two occupants, and no more were wanted.


SOURCE TEXT


EMENDATIONS

  1. somebody,” ∨ sombody,”
  2. were divided ∨ was divided
  3. Briggs, ∨ Briggs’,

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