Mysterious Room [14/18]

Fourteenth evening.

Isaac Fuller learned no helpful lesson from his disappointment in the raising of his barn, and soon made preparation for another gala day. Hannah Nibbs was not slow in her work of persuading the town folks that the curse of God rested on

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that enterprise; that the crow of that eventful morning was a most peculiar bird and had a very unearthly look when giving the warning that ought to have been heeded, and that Ike Fuller had not obtained so much money in so short a time honestly. She also urged that the calamity proved God’s displeasure with Fuller’s work, and that he was visiting wrath already upon the smooth-tongued fellow. This impression was so general, that when Fuller announced that all was ready for another raising, but few responded, and Fuller’s wrath was beyond expression. He determined to give himself no rest until he had punished the one whom he blamed for this; but he had misjudged somewhat, for Larkin’s shop had not been free from discussions on the subject. Hannah had suggested the matter in the homes of several of the frequenters of this rainy day resort.

Fuller had again secured the confidence of Seth Pendleton, with whom he had been less neighborly since his cash was exhausted. Seth was now a miserable drunkard. The Simpson farm was still in his possession, but fast running down, and would have been well covered with mortgage had not his wife refused to sign the papers. Coin from Fuller’s well-filled purse served as an effectual bait, and Seth was again under the control of Fuller, but for what reason it was difficult to tell; even Hannah was at a loss to know what motive to assign as the occasion of the renewal of the friendship between that once friendly couple. It was well known that Seth had no ready cash with which to pay the bills that were incurred by a repetition of the old-time sprees; yet Fuller was artful, and took this roundabout way to punish Hannah. His plan for accomplishing this purpose

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was somewhat complicated, and no one but a studied mischief-maker would have thought of such. To arouse Seth to the point where he would make trouble for his brother, and thus frustrate some plans of Hannah’s, was his determined purpose.

Fuller labored with Seth until he convinced him that Saul and his sisters were in league against him; that they would never be so united unless they were bent upon mischief and were making some plan to cheat him out of his part of the property that yet remained undivided, and which Mr. Briggs was determined should remain intact as long as possible. He saw what poor use Seth was making of the share already in his possession, and felt that it ought to be kept for the benefit of the faithful wife, who even now had to plan most carefully for the comfort of the three children, whose needs were poorly supplied. It was not long before Seth was fully convinced that he was being wronged, and he hastened to see Mr. Briggs, and talked in a most vociferous manner about the property, Saul, and his sisters, until Mr. Briggs hardly knew how to pacify and persuade him that all was right as he believed it was. Until now, he had been able to quiet Seth when he became uneasy about the delayed division. This was not the first time he had complained to the administrator of the estate, although in a very different manner, and Mr. Briggs did not fully understand the cause of this great change in Seth’s deportment; [*1] but he mistrusted that Fuller was at the bottom of it, for he had noticed that he had kept away from him for some weeks, and he believed, what is often true, that when a person suddenly begins to shun another whom he has been friendly with, it indicates that he has been talking

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maliciously of that one, or is planning mischief. After the advice of Mr. Briggs, Seth started for his home, but suddenly determined to go to the old homestead on the hill, bent on making trouble if possible. He found all hands, except the mother, busy in the preparations for the marriage; even Saul had become so far interested as to aid in the use of the great wheel that was kept whirling from morning till night.

Said Seth, with his usual abruptness, “I know what you are about here, and I am just going to put a stop to it. I believe you have been stealing from me and are doing it now. Ike Fuller says you are, and we are bound to spoil your fun and put you out of here. It’s just nonsense for you all three to have your living from this farm just to take care of ma’am.” [*2]

The expressions on the faces of the trio were enough to convince any one that they had been guilty of something which Mr. Briggs had not been consulted about. “A guilty conscience needs no accuser.” Seth was sharp enough to detect this, and made such threats that Sally tremblingly said if they would send for Mr. Briggs they would tell the whole. This was agreed upon, and Saul started for the one in whom they all had confidence. It was nearing midnight; the quiet sleep of Mr. and Mrs. Briggs was suddenly disturbed by a rap at the bed-room window.

“Who’s there?” shouted Mr. Briggs.

“‘Tis Saul; and we want you right up to the house at once for there is trouble,” replied the harsh voice of the angry Saul.

Mrs. Briggs, supposing that sickness must have driven him out at this late hour, exclaimed, “Is she very sick? Shall I come too? “

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”No — no,” was the hoarse reply, “she is all right, and we don’t want any one but Mr. Briggs, and don’t want any one to know anything about it.”

This aroused the suspicions of Mrs. Briggs, who felt that things were not all right, and she did all she could to prevent her husband from going, fearing she should never see him again.

“I don’t know but the Salem witches are coming around in these days,” said Mrs. Briggs, trying to assign some cause for this midnight visit. However, Mr. Briggs entertained no such fears, and doing what he could to quiet his somewhat alarmed companion, started out into the darkness of the night and went off in the direction of the Pendletons with a tall figure, that to Mrs. Briggs, as she saw it through the window, seemed twice the height of Saul.

The two walked on in silence. Saul was too much ashamed to speak, and as Mr. Briggs did not know the nature of the trouble, he did not feel at liberty to speak from fear of hurting the feelings of his midnight companion. On entering the house, he at once saw by the aid of the fire, and the dim, flickering candle, Seth, Sally and Priscilla sitting as silent as statues. The silence was soon broken by Seth, who said, “What did I tell you, Mr. Briggs! They are cheating me out of my part, if you don’t know it; they have told me as much; they have done something, and we want you to settle the matter.”

The confession was made, and the tin lantern was brought forth. It was seldom used and had been lighted but a few times since the eventful night after the burial of the father, and before Mr. Briggs took possession of the property and the mysterious room. The mice had visited the candle since it was

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last lighted, but this was unnoticed in the excitement of the hour, and the dim rays seemed struggling to shine out through the irregular holes that were partially covered with a coating of spider’s webs.

With the lantern in one hand and a shovel in the other, Sally took the lead, followed closely by the other three, while Mr. Briggs attended them, all the time wondering what the case could be. Out into the midnight darkness they go, across the road, through a gateway into the cow yard, over a wall to the rear of an old wood colored building known as the mill house; here they halt.

“There,” said Sally, relapsing into silence.

“That’s a hen coop,” said Mr. Briggs.

”Take it up and dig,” said Sally, passing the shovel. Sally seemed to be the only active one in the revelation.

[ exterior sketch ]
[[ A Midnight Revelation. ]]
“Take it up and dig,” said Sally.

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Mr. Briggs removed the old frame, and by the few flickering rays that shone from the fast declining candle, put in the shovel, which had evidently been used but little for many years. The frost hindered his progress, but after a few persistent efforts, he struck something hard.

“There,” said Sally, “there it is, I s’pose.”

“What?” shouted Seth, for his first utterance since the family left the house.

“What?” said Sally, repeating the question, “what you have made all of this fuss about.”

Mr. Briggs rested on his shovel while the conversation waxed earnest and hot. [*3] One not so well acquainted with the family would have been alarmed as they raised their voices and shook their fists at each other in the frosty atmosphere of that hour.

“I suppose you have buried there what you intended to spread on, when you married Joe Nibbs,” said Seth to Sally with much emphasis; “but I’ll spoil your fun and show up all three of you,” he continued.

Mr. Briggs now mistrusted the whole affair, and said in a tone and air of authority, “Whatever there is here is for me, as administrator, to take care of. That I shall do, so you may all stand back while I see what kind of a crop we are going to harvest here at midnight.”

He stooped down and worked with his hands until he found the edge of a board, which he lifted, just as the candle flickered and went out. Seth, being an inveterate smoker, had a plenty of tinder in his box and vainly tried to strike a spark into it from his flint and steel, but all to no purpose; the candle was nearly gone when they lighted it for this search.

Mr. Briggs worked away by the light of the stars,

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not thinking it best to venture to ask the assistance of either of the four who stood by. At length he loosened the great earthen vessel, from which he had removed the cover, but the falling earth had so completely hidden the contents that he could not tell what he had found. He took up the heavy burden and gave command for all to follow. No order was ever more readily obeyed. Seth kept a close eye on the leader. Upon entering the house, Mr. Briggs gave further orders to the anxious and shame-faced followers, so that when he lighted a fresh candle they sat in the four corners of the room, or as nearly so as the furniture would allow, while the earth-covered receptacle which he had brought in stood on the table in front of the fireplace.

Mr. Briggs saw at a glance what the nature of the contents was, and turned the jar upside down and left nothing but a heap of coin with a mixing of earth on the table. Looking at the pile before him, and then from one to another of the three who had caused this disturbance, Mr. Briggs remarked, with a good deal of emphasis, “I want to know if you have carried on any more such work as this, and if you have any more of your father’s property secreted, for I have the law to direct and uphold me, and I can make great trouble for you; but if you will confess all, I will proceed to do justice by each as well as by your poor mother, who is sleeping so quietly and knows no more of this midnight proceeding than I suppose she did of the night’s work when you secreted it.”

“Mother?” exclaimed Seth, “she’s got enough, and I don’t see what she has to do with this. If she has any of it Saul and the gals will git it away from her.”

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Mr. Briggs still maintaining his dignity, glanced his large gray eyes from one to another, as he said, “If you are all willing that I should take one-third of this for your mother, I will divide the remainder equally, and you may each give me good pay for this midnight disturbance.”

“If you will promise not to tell about it we will be willing to do as you say,” said Sally.

Mr. Briggs was not to be hired, but he was never inclined to tell much of his business, and he went on with the work of counting and dividing; being more familiar with the value of some pieces than he was when he assumed the care of the estate of Hezekiah Pendleton, he could do this work more easily than at the appraisal. He first took the share which he thought lawfully belonged to the aged mother, who was sleeping as soundly as an infant in the bed-room near by. Seth took his share and started for his home, declaring that he and Ike Fuller would come over there and dig the whole farm over, but what he would find more.

“I guess your digging won’t amount to much,” said Priscilla, who held her portion in her apron with but little idea of the amount or value of the bundle, while Sally, who held hers tied up in a blue and white kerchief, said to Seth in parting, “I hope you will make better use of this than you have of some.” Saul had already made haste to his room in the back part of the house and deposited his portion.

When Mr. Briggs reached home he found his faithful wife and Betsey sitting by the fire waiting for him. Mrs. Briggs commenced a series of questions, hardly stopping long enough to get an answer if one had been forthcoming. Unlike many people, Mr.

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[ interior sketch ]
Dividing the Treasures.

Briggs had things that he did not tell to his wife, and the experiences of this night were some of those things that he did not see fit to reveal to any one. He drew a bundle from his coat pocket and handed it to his wife, saying, “Ask me no questions; everything that seems so shrouded in mystery to you is all right; and some day you may know it all. Until then, be contented and take good care of that package. The worthy couple again retired to their room, but not to sleep, for Mrs. Briggs could not be quieted with her husband’s explanation.

Betsey had now become somewhat familiar with the Pendleton family and was quite a favorite with each of them. Her excellent taste had been put to a good use in arranging the wedding garments. She could not be easily quieted after this night’s experience, and the early morning found her on her way to

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the Pendleton home to resume her duty as dress maker, and possibly to get some more light on the strange affair that was still a mystery to her aunt and herself.


SOURCE TEXT


ANNOTATIONS

  1. “deportment”: demeanor
  2. “ma’am”: Mother
  3. “waxed . . . hot”: grew . . . heated

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