Mysterious Room [2/18]

Second evening.

Across the meadow, by the side of the hill, lived a thrifty farmer, Jacob Briggs, whose family consisted of wife Lucy and two burly boys of twelve and fourteen years, named George and Josiah, respectively. Now this “Goodman Jacob,” as the people styled him, strangely enough had gained the confidence of the entire Pendleton

[ p 19 ]

family, and all secrets and difficulties were entrusted to him, save this one. In fact, my child, Jacob Briggs was the closest-mouthed man I ever knew; [^1] any one could tell from the expression of his countenance that he would never betray the confidence of another, and I tell you, my boy, that is a noble trait of character in any one; if there were more such people in these days, there would be less trouble in society. If Mr. Briggs ever heard anything bad of a person he would suppress it, and he never allowed himself to tell a person anything that he knew would wound his feelings. He had justly won the confidence of the entire community, as well as that of the Pendletons.

During one driving north-east snow storm, about like that of the evening when I commenced this story, when no one was expected at the home of the Briggs, who should come puffing at the height of his speed to the back door but Seth, the older and coarser of the Pendleton boys, or young men I ought to call them, — for they had reached manhood physically, long before this. [^2]

Supposing that nothing but distress could have started any one out in such a storm, Mother Briggs hastened to the door with knitted brow and anxious face, and in spite of the insifting snow, feelingly exclaimed, “Seth, what is the matter? Has your mother had another of those spells? Why didn’t you put the wormwood right on before you started? I suppose the girls are doing that, — but how bad is she? “

Seth, who by this time had shaken off the snow flakes that covered his rugged form, displayed a look not akin to such trouble, but to anxiety of another

[ p 20 ]

kind, soon made known by his own words. Mr. Briggs, having been called from the attic, where he was shelling corn on a shovel, seated himself before the broad open fire with his good wife and Seth, whose clothes were already steaming by the flashing flames. [*1] After several tosses of the head and a number of attempts to clear his throat, Seth made known the cause of this unseasonable visit.

”What do you think, Mr. Briggs, that Dad did last night, when we were all drinking our catnip?” The Pendletons drank catnip tea unless a neighbor happened to sup with them. “Why, I haven’t seen him so good-natered for months to the whole of us, and ma’am thinks it is a warning of something awful coming. ‘The sunny hours before a thunder storm,’ she says. Why, he said he’d come to the conclusion that none of us was ever going to git married, and he was going to make an offer, and what do you suppose it was? He said he’d give to the one of us that would git married first, the Simpson farm. Now, what do you think of that?”

Seth was too full to give Mr. Briggs a chance to answer any of these questions, but went on to describe the Simpson place, which was well known to Mr. Briggs, as he was one of the assessors of the town, and knew the appraised value of all the real estate in the community. [*2]

“That’s a fine house and forty acres of good land, besides the cranberry medder, and he says he means it too,” continued Seth. [*3]

“Do tell!” exclaimed Mother Briggs. “I should think something was coming, and I don’t wonder your mother looks for some calamity after such a strange thing on the part of your father.”

[ p 21 ]

“Now, what I want is, to git that place myself. I know neither of the gals will git it, for Sally is bound to be married first ’cause she is the oldest, and no one will have her; and as for Saul, he hain’t got spunk enough. Now, what shall I do first, Mr. Briggs? I lay awake last night, and I thought of Patty Potter, who lives at the Deacon’s. Do you suppose she would be willing to have me?”

Here was quite a pause. All three seemed intent on watching the flames as they crackled and rolled up the chimney. One might have known, however, that Mr. Briggs was giving the peculiar question serious consideration, from the manner in which he ran his fingers through his chestnut locks. At last, but not until Seth began to be a little discouraged, Mr. Briggs broke the spell and said: —

“You had better go to the singing school in the village. They say that is a great place for making matches. Go next Tuesday evening; Patty will be there, and when they get through the singing meeting, you just step up and ask her if you may have the pleasure of accompanying her home.”

“But what shall I do if she says no?” anxiously inquired Seth.

“Oh, never mind that, the girls often say no when they don’t mean it; but step right up to her and insist on going,” said Mr. Briggs, roguishly.

Seth, whose face was aglow with hope by this time, burst in with the inquiry, “Shall I ask her to have me right off, or have I got to wait till another night? I can’t waste much time, for Saul will be trying to git some one, and I am bound to git that farm, so close to Squire Smith’s it ain’t to be sneezed at, I tell you.”

[ p 22 ]

“I wouldn’t speak right out the first night but, use your judgment and let me know how you get along. Patty is a fine girl and worth trying hard for,” said Mr. Briggs, encouragingly.

“But, Mr. Briggs,” responded Seth, “I have got to have these brogans mended or have some new ones before I can go to the singing school or anywhere else, and Dad won’t give me any money; but I am going over to Larkin’s shop before I go home and see what he can do for me. I guess he’ll trust me, for he knows Dad will pay rather than git into trouble. I’ll come over and tell you what Patty says; if Saul or the gals come over, don’t tell them I’ve been here.”

With these words Seth started across the lots for Mr. Larkin’s.

“Now, father,” said Mrs. Briggs, as soon as Seth was well out of the way, “those Pendletons have come to us for advice on various subjects, but this is a new one.”

“Sure enough,” said he.

“But,” she continued, “what do you think has come across the old gentleman, that he should start out with this offer? Stop — stop; who is that coming? ” she said, lowering her voice, before her husband had time to give an answer to her first question.

“That is Saul,” replied Mr. Briggs; “now be sure that nothing is said.”

Turning to Saul, who was well nigh in, she exclaimed with seeming surprise, “Good-morning, Saul, how are all the folks?”

“About the same,” replied the awkward fellow, excepting Dad, and he is getting real good-natered. Why, he said last night that he’d give the Simpson farm to the one of us that would git married first.”

[ p 23 ]

“That is a new departure,” slyly responded Mrs. Briggs.

“Yes, ’tis; but I don’t believe much in it,” continued Saul, with a doubtful shake of the head. “But Seth is all up on it and went off, as soon as we had foddered the cows, to git his brogans mended up to Larkin’s shop, and the gals are a little stirred up on it too; but they can’t agree, and it is of no use for them to think of it. No one will have Seth if he tries, but he says he is going to, though. Did you know, Mr. Briggs, that Parson Jones has bought the Goodnough farm and is going to live there? I guess he thinks this town will hire him to preach,” continued Saul.

“Why no,” exclaimed Mrs. Briggs, voicing the surprise of herself and husband; “when was that? Why, his wife is dead; how can he carry on a farm with no one to take care of the dairy? “

“I don’t know how that is,” said Saul, “but I must hurry back, for Seth is off and Dad won’t come out of that den of his if the cattle ain’t watered ’till night; but he’ll blaze at us if we let them go for an hour over the time.”

“Give my regards to your mother and the girls,” exclaimed the familiar voice of Mrs. Briggs from the cheese room, whither she had gone to attend to the duties of the day. “And tell them,” she continued, “my last churning was the best of the season, little too white, but good for winter butter. Has he gone, father?” the same voice followed with a whisper, which grew louder when assured that Saul was beyond hearing. I declare, Mr. Pendleton has got them pretty well stirred up, but Seth seems to be the most aroused and I hope he will succeed. I don’t see why

[ p 24 ]

he won’t make a good husband; to be sure, he is rather awkward, but a good wife will help him to overcome those failings, and with that Simpson place all clear, they would have a good start.”

“I think so, too,” said Mr. Briggs, “and I mean to help it along. I think it is real missionary work to aid in getting one of those Pendletons out from the iron sway of their father. If you see Patty, you just speak to her; she will be at the quilting to-morrow, for she is always ready to lend a hand in all good work. You suggest to her that there may be an occasion for another quilting if she is willing, and that will set her to thinking before the singing school.”

“Now, father, I am afraid you are overdoing the thing,” said good Mrs. Briggs, reprovingly.

“Here, Ned,” said grandma, “you can but see that the ignorance of the unfortunate children began very soon to show itself. No young man who had enjoyed ordinary advantages would have started out as did Seth, and, in fact, no father who had done his duty by his children, would have made any such proposition. As you have never been allowed to spend your leisure hours in a cobbler’s shop, you will not fully appreciate the position of Seth when reaching the workshop of Mr. Larkin.”

Seth, on finding that his job could be done right away, concluded to stop, and as the pair of well-worn brogans was all that he possessed, he saw there was no other way to put them in trim in time for the singing school than to wait while Mr. Larkin made the needed repairs.

“Seth, you ought to go to the singing school,” shouted the little bald-headed man, who sat at a low bench in one corner.” They say the boys and

[ p 25 ]

girls are all getting matched, and you won’t stand any show at all after this season,” continued he, little thinking he had touched a tender chord when he addressed this remark to Seth, all the time driving in the pegs to a stout cowhide of overgrown proportion.

“That’s so,” drawled out a portly fellow while turning about on his stool for a rest and a pinch of snuff.

“Yes, yes; that’s just what I told my wife,” said a third, who had just entered and stood with ox-whip in hand. “I expect all three of our gals will be spoke for, before that singing school is over; and as for my Jake, he is after some of them himself.”

Seth, for whose benefit these remarks had been made, could stand it no longer, but stammeringly exclaimed: —

[ interior sketch ]
Larkin’s Shop.

[ p 26 ]

“Well, I am going to that singing school; that’s what I’m gitting my brogans fixed up for; not that I expect to learn to sing, but I’m bound to git the Simpson farm. Perhaps you don’t know that Dad has offered to give that nice farm, cranberry medder and all, to the one of us that will git married first, and Mr. Briggs tells me to go to the singing school and go home with — with some one.”

Here Seth wisely put a stop to his injudicious exposure, which called forth the exclamation from all hands, “Who? Who? Who?” but Seth shook his head, and, with a pleased countenance, began to tie the leather strings that held the freshly tapped brogans in place.

After promising to settle the bill as soon as he could get the needful change, Seth arose to go, when the little bald-headed man exclaimed: —

“My Isaac says that school is good for nothing. They don’t learn a thing, for they are sparking all the time, and the master can’t make them attend to time or tune.” [*4]

This remark called forth from a tall, lean figure that sat partly screened behind a side of leather, these words, which he jerked out between the inserting and pulling of his waxed end: [*5] —

“Yes, but Patty Potter settled his case the other night when he stepped up to her, my Hannah says, and she saw it.”

With these words ringing in his ears, Seth started for home, meditating as he went, and sometimes getting so lost in thought as to find himself talking aloud. [^3] “Now, if Patty Potter wouldn’t let Ike Foster go home with her, perhaps she won’t me,” muttered Seth with a shake of the head. “But I’m

[ p 27 ]

bound to try, and when she knows about the Simpson farm, and I’ll tell her the first thing, she’ll let me go I’ll bet.” Here the revery of Seth was suddenly cut short by an unexpected shout from a figure in blue frock and high boots, that proved to be Hanson Page, a good neighbor, who was on his way to town.

“They tell me your father is getting pretty feeble and ain’t going to be able to guard that garret locker always. Then I suppose, Saul, the gals and you will have things about as you want them.”

“I don’t know about that, but Dad offered the Simpson farm to the one that will git married first, and I’m bound to git it,” unwisely added Seth, not thinking the news would spread like wildfire through the village.

Seth, in his newly tapped brogans, made haste for home and was met at the door by his good mother, who reprovingly said, ” Where have you been all this time? The forelog is all burnt out, the eggs ain’t got and they will all freeze. [*6] Saul has been off, and the girls are so full of silly notions about that Simpson farm that they are just good for nothing. I guess your father has spoiled the whole of you. Oh, ’tis a pity he hadn’t put a little good sense into your heads by keeping you at school instead of bringing you up in this kind of way.”

Here the good woman brought her complainings to a sudden stop, for the quick ear of Seth heard the father, and gave the warning, “Dad is coming,” which was always regarded as the best reason for being busy about the chores. Mrs. Pendleton was a thoroughly good woman, and evinced not a little sound judgment when she dared to express her own thoughts.

[ p 28 ]

“You, Ned, have yet to learn that many a good woman is kept from doing the most for her children or appearing at her best, because of a tyrannical husband.”

“Eh, eh!” growled the little russet-faced man, before he reached the bottom step, “it’s going to be a cold night. Where’s Sally and Priscilla and the boys? The forelog is all burnt out and my cider is stone cold,” continued he as he stood before the smouldering embers taking a sip from the tall mug that always stood in the corner of the great fireplace in order that the beverage might be of a temperature agreeable to his taste.

“I believe you have spoiled the whole of them children about the Simpson farm,” meekly expressed the mother, as she slackened the big wheel to which she had hastened on the approach of her husband.

“The cup of steaming catnip served, and chores outside and in, all done, we will leave the family about the snapping, flaming fire for the evening. They did, sometimes, sit down together, but there was not that sweet sympathy and kindly feeling existing which you would enjoy or which is to be found in any home where each member of the household thinks of and works to promote the comfort of the other.” [^4]

Thus grandma closed the evening’s story and gave the usual good-night blessing.


SOURCE TEXT


EMENDATIONS

  1. knew; ∨ knew,
  2. Briggs, ∨ Briggs’,
  3. getting ∨ geting
  4. sometimes, ∨ sometmes,

ANNOTATIONS

  1. “shelling”: shucking
  2. “full”: engrossed
  3. “medder”: meadow
  4. “sparking”: courting
  5. “waxed end”: [ shoemaking ]: waxed thread
  6. “ain’t got”: [ evidently ] haven’t been gathered

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