Mysterious Room [17/18]

[ house sketch ]
A Neighbor’s Home. [*1]

Seventeenth evening.

The Pendleton property was fully settled. No one knew what the amount of the estate was, outside the family, with the exception of Mr. Briggs, not even his wife. Saul had an extra portion with the agreement “to see his mother through.” For a while things worked very well, until at length Saul brought a housekeeper from the neighboring town who managed to get the control of not only Saul but his mother, and they both had implicit confidence in Silence Baker. She took the part of a suitor and soon met with a conquest. Saul was brought under her control completely, and Mother Pendleton was set one side as a kind of machine to eat and drink what was set before her and ask no questions. As the property was fully settled and out of the administrator’s hands, Mr. Briggs had no legal right to say anything about matters on the hill, and the new mistress of the house didn’t propose to

[ p 144 ]

have him interfere, and even Saul was not allowed to go for advice on any subject, save one occasion when his favorite cow was choked with an apple; but the noble heart of Mr. Briggs prompted him to respond with as kindly feeling as had actuated him on any of the numerous calls from that family. With the aid of Saul he saved the life of the cow, but Silence very ungratefully showed that she had no further use for their kind neighbor after the life of the cow was assured.

Silence Baker could not have been more inappropriately named, for she was never silent when there was any one near by to scold. A few years had brought a great change in this old home. For a long time the Briggs had been welcome at all hours and been sought for on all occasions; [^1] now they were the last resort, and Saul scarcely dared to drop in for a moment when on his way to the village. He was as much an underling as when the father ruled the home and all who were in it; but he received little or no sympathy, as he had brought this trouble upon himself. In all other matters of difficulty he had resorted to Mr. and Mrs. Briggs for comfort, but now he must endure it alone, and he was poorly prepared for such a mental burden.

Silence began to express a desire for a new house, and it was not an unreasonable request. The old dwelling was very much dilapidated; but Saul was attached to it as it had sheltered him all his days, and there were pleasant associations connected with it when viewed from his present standpoint. The darkest days of his early life looked pleasant to him now. He did not assent to the proposition of his wife, and this gave rise to a decided quarrel. Mother Pen-

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dleton meekly took her food, ate it and said nothing, but longed for the visits of Mr. and Mrs. Briggs as of old, and even did venture to send for them by Hannah, who dared to call upon the aged lady “out of sympathy;” but Silence, who was as good as her name only until Hannah departed, so opened her battery of words upon the good woman, that she never sent for them again. When they came in response to the request of their old neighbor, Silence kept within hearing so that the good woman had no opportunity to tell her grievances to them or ask advice as she always had done and still longed to do; and truly she never needed it more. Her hearing was not impaired in the least, but she had a trouble in her limbs that prevented her from walking but little; so she was obliged to remain at home and hear the scolding of Silence; and when any one came she was not allowed to be alone with them long enough to tell her troubles. An occasional visit from the lighthearted Betsey was as a sunbeam to her lonely room, and not infrequently the gentle hands of the young friend deposited on her table a bunch of old-fashioned posies, that served to carry back the thoughts of the aged woman to the days of her youth.

Saul was obliged to give way to the persuasions and threats of his wife, and begin to plan for the new house. Silence considered Fuller’s advice very much better than any that her husband could give. The house was to stand on the opposite side of the highway from the ancestral dwelling. It was built largely of lumber prepared from the trees of the old farm, and was months in process of erection. Saul, being entirely ignorant of the expense of building or of making bargains, was imposed upon at every hand.

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Ike Fuller had secured his confidence, and now rejoiced in the fact that he had the place of Mr. Briggs as an adviser. It seemed strange, but it was true, that Fuller so got the control of Saul that he believed that Mr. Briggs had been imposing upon him; “feathering his nest,” as Fuller called it, and Saul now felt relieved that he had secured for an adviser, one so capable, so kind and willing. He could not see how his brother Seth had been brought to ruin, and this blindness was due to his early lack of training. Fuller took the entire direction of building the house, and persuaded Saul, with the help of Silence, to erect a barn at the same time. Fuller provided the cash when any was needed for paying the bills, only asking Saul and Silence to put their names on a paper. So kind, they thought, to take so much of the care.

As the buildings were nearing completion Silence began to make known some plans that she had been maturing in her mind ever since the foundation for the house was laid. They were to go into the new house, and a lame old lady would not be an attractive feature of the residence across the street, was intimated by Silence. When this subject was suggested to Saul, he said that his mother could remain in the old house and they could provide her meals for her and look after her there. But no; Fuller had sided with Silence, and he said that the house must come down as it would spoil the view from the new one, and so it did come down; the rear buildings before the new house was fully ready. Silence concluded that Mother Pendleton should have a back room in the new house, and she was located there.

People who were familiar with the early history of

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the Pendletons would say, as they passed by or spoke of them while in their homes, “What a change for the better. The old tyrant gone, a fine new set of buildings, how Saul with his wife and old mother must enjoy themselves.” But how deceptive appearances often are. To be sure, the old tyrant was gone, and the old house with the other dilapidated buildings were gone and a nice set of farm buildings was substituted for them. Mother Pendleton was located in a room where the wind or storm could not reach her as it had of late years in the old house; but there was a new tyrant in the new house and a continual storm that seemed never to abate.

Fuller called about three months after they were located in the new house and demanded the first instalment of interest. This was astounding to both Saul and Silence. They had mortgaged the farm to Fuller for the money to complete the buildings; so Fuller said and so the papers indicated. They paid the interest and thought this was all, as they did not fully understand the nature of a mortgage, Silence being as ignorant of business as her husband. Saul was not to blame for this ignorance; but he must be the sufferer. It was the iniquity of the father visited upon the child. Great anxiety did not show itself on the part of Saul and Silence until a second demand was made by Fuller, and this brought them to the place where they were ready to send for Mr. Briggs, before whom the matter was laid. He found that Fuller had furnished the needful money; where he got it Mr. Briggs could not tell, as well as what became of the quantity that Saul had when his old adviser was dismissed by Silence. The records showed that there was a heavy mortgage on the whole

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property, and the old lady had signed the papers as well as Saul and his wife, and she was in a fair way to come to want before she died if her life was prolonged to a great age. [*2] After telling the family what they had unconsciously done, Mr. Briggs declined to have anything further to do with the matter and started for his home.

Hannah Nibbs, who was ever spiteful after Saul married Silence, did not hesitate to freely say that Fuller took the money from Saul to pay the bills and then got him to mortgage the farm to secure him for the money that was never his. No one can tell the truth of Hannah’s supposition, but she was not alone in that opinion.

It was too late now. The interest was accumulating; Saul was obliged to cut off wood to meet the payments and the value of the farm was fast diminishing. Saul had the whole of his mother’s property in his hands through the aid or leadership of Fuller and Silence, and Mother Pendleton did not know it, yet the papers were duly executed. The old lady never fully realized how much she had. The repeated demands for interest prompted Silence to reveal another of her deep laid plans. She wanted to sell the property and go elsewhere to live; but in order to do this, felt obliged to make some plan to dispose of the old lady. She proposed to give some one an amount of money “to see Saul’s mother through,” as he had legally bound himself to do. This brought tears to Saul’s eyes. He loved his old mother, but tears were of no avail with Silence. She accomplished her undertaking, and Mother Pendleton was literally sold to a man from another town, packed

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up with her few furnishings, to be provided for by strangers.

“She can’t get much worse treatment than she has now,” said Hannah, when calling on Mrs. Briggs after this change.

Saul was blamed from one end of the town to the other, but he could not help it now. It was too late for him to have any influence; he was a mere underling. The property was fast going; through his ignorance he had been defrauded and his old mother as well. If this punishment could have fallen on the elder Pendleton, it would have been his just desert, but to come upon the innocent, upon that good, blameless old lady, was enough to arouse the passive to action.

On hearing that Mother Pendleton was to go to her new home on a certain day, Mrs. Briggs and her niece ventured to call upon her; and it was upon her, for no one but Saul was to be seen, and he was too much troubled to speak, so the kind heart of Mrs. Briggs deterred her from adding fuel to the flame that was already tormenting him. The grief of the old lady was very affecting to her friends. She begged to be led around where the old house stood that she might just look once more into the cellar. This was done; and on the arm of Mrs. Briggs and Betsey she leaned while saying, “There was where the old chimney stood where my husband and I sat beside each other so many evenings when the children were small. I spent many happy years in that house; but to be sure my husband changed before he died and was a hard man. I never thought I was bringing up children to treat me this way in my last years. Poor Saul, he is not to blame; he has gone over to that Jezebel of his.”

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Mrs. Pendleton was familiar with the Scriptures and had been quite a reader and thinker in her early days, and in these trying hours happened to apply the Old Testament story very aptly, for surely Silence was a woman of a very bad influence, and after knowing that she had been cheated herself, she was even more unkind than when she thought she was being shrewd and dealing unjustly with others. Two teams were seen rising the hill, which brought the trying scene to a close. The goods were packed into one and the good lady was taken into the other. Silence did appear to see that none of her things were carried off, as she said, with a look of mingled shame and contempt.

“I hope they will bury me beside my husband,” were the last words that Mrs. Briggs heard from her friend of so many years as the carriage passed down the hill. No funeral procession ever bore to a grave a more afflicted mourner than was now being carried to a strange place and among strange people.

“God will punish them for this, you say. We must look farther and see. Where was Seth? We know that ruin has followed in his path. Where were the daughters? We shall see and also learn what other trouble is hidden in the homes of the Pendleton family.”

[ house sketch ]
A Neighbor’s Home.


SOURCE TEXT


WORKS CITED


EMENDATIONS

  1. Briggs ∨ Briggs’

ANNOTATIONS

  1. This sketch depicts the (non-fictional) Robinson House.
    This “very old homestead” was demolished “about 1870”.
    cf. Brown’s History of the town of Bedford (1891) p 101
    Now the site of the Nathan Bowman House: 107 Springs Road (HPN) pp 434-344
  2. “in a fair way to come to want”: likely to be reduced to poverty
  3. This sketch depicts the (non-fictional) Sampson House.
    cf. Brown’s History of the town of Bedford (1891) p 101
    Now called the Zachariah Fitch House: 145 Davis Road (HPN) pp 367-368

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