Mysterious Room [11/18]

Eleventh evening.

While Mrs. Briggs was at the Pendletons’ with Mr. Jones, Mr. Briggs took a walk over the hill through “Love Lane” to Deacon Sprague’s to look at some cattle, [^1] and as the road lay by Seth Pendleton’s, he dropped in to say a neighborly word. On entering the room he plainly saw by

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the appearance of Patty, that things were not going on altogether right, and he asked for Seth. Patty hesitated at first, but finally, in a discouraged manner, did say, “I may as well tell you the whole matter. I know you are friendly towards us and will not unkindly expose our misfortunes. Seth has not been himself at all since you paid him his share of the money. You know he went right off and bought that horse and chaise, and he has been riding ever since; and Ike Puller and Hanson Page have been with him continually, one or the other being away with him all the time. To be sure he provides enough to eat, but beside that I have not seen a dollar and I don’t know what he is doing with it.”

Here Patty hesitated, but soon started again, as if determined to secrete her troubles no longer. [*1]

“I believe that Ike Fuller is not hanging around Seth from any good motive, and as for Hanson Page, I think he’d better stay at home with his wife, for there she is, poor woman, and can’t get out at all.”

“Where is Seth to-day? ” interrupted Mr. Briggs.

“Oh, he hasn’t been off the bed yet,” said Patty,

“He didn’t get home till almost morning, and then he was so much the worse for liquor, that I had to put the horse in the stable; and I have done all the chores at the barn. Now, Mr. Briggs,” she continued,. “I am about discouraged, and sometimes wish his father had not left a cent. When Seth is at home he is either half drunk or scolding about Saul and the girls, who, he says, are getting more than he is; but I know, and so does he when he is sober, that you are doing everything right, and that they ought to have their living from the farm if they stay and take care of their mother.”

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“Yes; and you know that this farm was a gift right out to Seth by his father,” said Mr. Briggs.

“I know it,” sadly replied Patty, “and I wish I had never” —

At this time in stepped Joe Nibbs, who was a brother to Hannah; he had been away for some years, but had lately come home to take charge of the farm and look after his mother with the aid of his sister.

“They do tell me,” said Joe, “that Ike Fuller is going to build a barn right off, and Hannah says his wife told her they had money enough on hand to put it right up and have no mortgage on it either. Now, I don’t see through it,” said Joe, “for Ike don’t attend to his affairs half as well as some of them round here, and they couldn’t build a barn if they wanted to, and can’t pay off what they do owe on the old one, half of them; but Hannah says, and she knows, for she has got it right from Huldah, that Ike has had great luck lately and struck some fine bargains, so they are going to have a right smart barn.”

“Indeed,” said Mr. Briggs, ” this is news. I knew that Mr. Fuller needed a barn, and so do I, but I had not learned that he felt equal to building at present. I guess the watch speculation is profitable just now.”

Patty did venture to say, “I guess he wouldn’t have built a barn if Mr. Pendleton had lived; poor, foolish man he was, to deny his family the comforts of life and a respectable schooling, and leave his money to be wasted in this manner, just thrown away by his own children.” [^2]

The appearance of Seth from the bed-room put a sudden stop to Patty’s sensible remarks. One needed to take but a look at Seth to know it all. Ike Fuller and others had taken the advantage of his ignorance

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and weakness and persuaded him to drink repeatedly, until he was becoming a confirmed drunkard; and these continued drives from home were bringing desolation upon the farm, sorrow to his neglected family, and shame and ruin to himself. Patty did what she could in caring for the stock and looking after affairs outside; but these duties, added to the care of three children, were too much for any woman, and she was losing courage, thus making the outlook very bad for the occupants of the Simpson farm. Many women, under better circumstances, would have lost courage long before Patty did, but she was a true wife and mother, and as such, struggled on, bending more and more in both mind and body as the burden grew heavy and this troublesome journey lengthened.

When Seth realized that Mr. Briggs was present, he tried to appear decently, but it was with difficulty that he walked across the room, and seeing the real state of affairs, the good neighbor left the house, wishing he could do something to bring about a change in that home.

Mr. Briggs went on to Deacon Sprague’s, looked at the cattle with an eye to purchasing, then hastened home to find his good wife Dolly with Betsey and the boys, waiting tea for him. When seated about the table they reported the experiences of the afternoon, while George, Josiah and their black-eyed cousin gave more heed to the reports than to the food before them.

“I was never more amused than during my visit this afternoon,” said Dolly. “We were all in the best room together, when I felt that Mr. Jones was being placed in a very trying position, so I managed to leave the room, and Sally and her mother followed

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me, which left Mr. Jones and Priscilla alone, just what I suppose they wanted. Mother Pendleton, Sally and I sat down for a good visit as I expected, but in less than twenty minutes from the time we left the room, Priscilla came out looking wonderfully smiling, followed by Mr. Jones, who entered into conversation with Mother and Sally. Priscilla called me into the cheese room, and when she was sure we were alone and away from the hearing of any one, she said, ‘What shall I get for my wedding gown?’ This, I must confess, surprised me, but I found that the case was fully settled and they were engaged. Priscilla wants to do everything up in grand style, but, poor woman, she knows very little of the world, and I fear, by this unreasonable haste, shows that she does not fully realize what a great change she is about to make. I only hope it will prove a wise step and that Mr. Jones will make her a kind husband, and I fully believe she will do her best to fill the position. Priscilla is so utterly incapable of going to town to make the needful purchases, I have consented to go to Boston with her, and she wants to go immediately. I believe she is fully as anxious to bring the serious matter to a close as Mr. Jones is, and when you can make it convenient, I wish you would drive us to Boston and aid in the purchases. If left alone with her inexperience she is liable to be imposed upon. Those clerks will give one anything for dress fabric and trimmings when they see that a customer is not posted as to the fashions and is not accustomed to making selections. [*2] All the neighbors will blame us if anything in her outfit is not appropriate. There will be one pleasant feature about this

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business, Priscilla has a plenty of money and there’s no need of economizing.”

”Yes; and I don’t know but it may as well be spent in that way as to go as I feel that Seth’s is going,” said Mr. Briggs. “Now that you have told your experience this afternoon, I will tell mine.”

“Oh, did you buy father’s cows? ” interrupted Dolly.

”No, I did not,” was the reply. I called in to Seth’s on the way and was so troubled by what I saw and learned, that I did not feel like making an offer just then, and your father was engaged with some people on church business.”

“What is the trouble at Seth’s?” interrupted Dolly again; whereupon Mr. Briggs told the whole story and what Joe Nibbs had told them about Ike Fuller’s building prospects.

“I declare,” said Dolly, ”I suppose it won’t do for any one to say what they think; but what a pity it is that these Pendletons hadn’t been allowed to mingle more with the world and been educated a little so as to have more judgment in their dealings with these smooth-tongued fellows who pretend to be so very friendly, and are nothing but wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

“I have feared for a long time that Seth’s old appetite was getting the mastery of him,” said Mr. Briggs, thoughtfully; but I don’t know what can be done; there is no Mr. Whitford to talk to him now. When he signed the pledge, he was led to it by the persuasions of the deacon, who, he thought, would aid him in getting Patty if he should gratify him by signing, and joining the temperance society; but there is no such motive to impel him to keep his

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pledge, ”and in fact, every influence is on the other side, for his companions now are so unlike those who aided him at that time.”

“But,” said Dolly, “are not the good people of that temperance society to blame for allowing Seth to drift away from them and their influence, and giving these bad people a chance to overpower him in this way; and must we not take a little of the blame to ourselves?”

“Possibly we are at fault,” said Mr. Briggs, with an apparent twinge of conscience, “but what is to be done? If I go to making myself too conspicuous in the case, Fuller and Page and such men will try to make Seth believe that I am aiming to do what we think these evil-minded men are doing.”

“Sure enough,” said Dolly. “Oh, if Mr. Whitford was alive; but it is useless to talk about that, the good Heavenly Father has called him home, and it is the duty of the people to do the more now that he is gone. I think that is one of the best ways for a person to show regard for a friend who is called from this earth.”

“That is very true,” said Mr. Briggs, “but my one and only objection to organizations for reform of all kinds, as you well know, is their spasmodic way of conducting them. They will get aroused and make a great effort for a time and draw in large numbers, many of whom are brought in through excitement, and when that subsides, the most active fail to keep up their enthusiasm, and those who are not firm of purpose drop off and by their conduct often bring reproach upon the cause. Seth’s case is just an illustration.”

“I know the ground on which you base your objec-

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tions,” said Dolly; “but did you throw away all those bank notes that you found in Mr. Pendleton’s room just because some proved to be worthless?”

Here the conversation was brought to a sudden close by the appearance of Hannah Nibbs, who “just dropped in for a few moments” as she said, but which proved to be for some hours. Hannah was not in the habit of making short calls. She had been very careful about calling at Mr. Briggs’ since she left so unceremoniously; but now having a new topic for discussion, it was impossible for her to keep away. Betsey’s black eyes and keen wit furnished not a little attraction, while this new member of the Briggs family saw in Hannah a most interesting character.

“I guess Patty Potter is sick of her bargain by this time,” were the first words that Hannah said on entering the house, and she had part of her salutation expressed before she was seated. “They tell me that Seth is drunk half his time, and he isn’t any too kind either,” she continued. ” It’s plain enough to be seen that all he joined the temperance society for was to get Patty. I thought so then; I wouldn’t have had him if he had signed the pledge a dozen times. I know what them Pendletons are, although the gals do step so fine now they have got a lot of money; if they don’t look out it will go as Seth’s is going. Yes; go to build a barn for Ike Puller. I don’t care what anybody says, I just speak right out what I think, and it’s what everybody else thinks too. And they say Priscilla is going to have Priest Jones.”

“Who says that?” exclaimed Dolly, supposing no one could have learned of the call so soon.

“Who? I guess you know all about it. Your Josiah is pretty close mouthed, I know, but he did

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tell Ned Page where he had been this afternoon and what his errand was, and I was down to see Ned’s mother when he came home and told it, so Hepsy and I just put our heads together and studied it out. Poor Hepsy, she is so lame, and she does so long to get out and see folks and get the news too. Why, she says it is as good as a sewing meeting to her to have me come down, and if I can do any good in that way I am sure I am willing to do it. I do think people ought to be more willing to do good in the world now that Mr. Whitford is gone. But poor Patty — she ought to have known better than to have taken that awkward Seth Pendleton; and I should think them folks that helped along the match would feel a little disturbed by things at the Simpson farm. Patty is welcome to all she can get out of that farm. I hope Priscilla will make out better. I should think some folks would be more careful how they help on these matches; but perhaps they can get some of that money if they only help the gals get married. I hope Priscilla will be a better housekeeper in her own home than she has ever been yet.”

The soliloquy, for such it seemed, being directed to no one in particular, was brought to a close, or the subject changed, by a word from Mr. Briggs, who roguishly said, “I have heard that Saul is paying his visits rather more often than has been his habit, to the Nibbs family.”

“Yes,” said Hannah, as she rose to go, “Joe and he always were intimate.”

It was decided that the Boston trip should be made early in the next week, and Dolly, in the meantime, was to make out a list of the articles to be bought, which she faithfully did.

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The time for closing an evening’s story had arrived. The tall clock that stood in the corner had struck nine, and grandma arose to draw up the weights, pausing to hastily add a few practical remarks by which she hoped to make a lasting impression on the boy, who sat at her knee and eagerly drank in every word of her story. Said grandma, “I want you to learn from the facts that I have given you this evening the folly of living for money, if you have not already been sufficiently impressed with the lessons of former evenings, and also to see that the evils of such conduct do not fall entirely on one person, and quite often not upon the one who is in the wrong. Mr. Pendleton lived for money, but much of the evil of his wrong doing fell upon his children as you see, and will yet learn that his good, pure-hearted wife was also a sufferer.


SOURCE TEXT


EMENDATIONS

  1. Pendletons’ ∨ Pendletons
  2. manner, ∨ maner,

ANNOTATIONS

  1. “secrete”: conceal
  2. “posted as to”: informed about

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