Mysterious Room [4/18]

Fourth evening.

About the time that Seth Pendleton and his bride Patty took possession, as the lawful owners of the Simpson farm, Rev. Mr. Jones settled on the farm recently purchased of the Goodnough heirs; he cleared away the house and barn, and began to replace them with as fine a set of farm buildings as the town afforded. Mrs. Briggs often remarked to her family and to callers, that she could not see what Parson Jones was thinking of, — to come to town, buy a piece of real estate and erect fine buildings when he was a widower; but, Mr. Briggs, who was famous for setting all kinds of affairs, from a large estate to a family quarrel, when overhearing his good wife, would decide this difficult question by saying, “There are a plenty who would be glad to preside in that new house.” It was at this mid-summer season that a shadow came over the Briggs home. Mrs. Briggs took a severe cold in the early spring, and in spite of all the faithful efforts of the doctors of the village, together with the best of nursing from her devoted husband and the good neighbors, all of whom were strongly attached to her, she went into a rapid decline, and on the last day of July she passed from her home and family.

Strange it seems to us that one so much needed in her family, and in the community so endeared, should be thus early summoned from earth.

“My child, you must learn that God’s ways are best, and if we cannot see it at the time, we must have faith in him and his promises and know he has told us, ‘He doeth all things well.'” [*1]

[ p 42 ]

The neighbors were very attentive to Mr. Briggs and full of sympathy for him in his lonely condition, and it is true they went so far as openly to speak of the matter at a sewing meeting held at Deacon Sprague’s in the following September.

The ladies there assembled, representing many of the families of the village, agreed that the Briggs home must be very lonely, and that Hannah Nibbs, who, by the way, had gone, as she claimed, “out of pure sympathy,” to keep house for the family, was not the one for the place. She did not know how to manage boys at all, and George and Josiah began to show the loss of their mother already. While the conversation was at its height, Dolly Sprague, the deacon’s daughter, companion and housekeeper, who was entertaining the sewing circle, came in with her span clean apron fully spread and announced that tea was ready. [*2] It was quite noticeable that Sally and Priscilla Pendleton did little during the afternoon but listen to the conversation about the Briggs family.

Tea over, and a committee chosen to pack the box that was to be sent out among the Indians, the others hastened home. The “Pendleton girls,” as they were called by the townfolks, took a short cut over the hill, down “Love Lane,” by the Briggs house, and just dropped in to call on Hannah Nibbs and inquire after the household.

“Why didn’t you go to the sewing meeting at Dolly Sprague’s?” said Priscilla.

“Why didn’t I?” replied Hannah, “How could I? [^1] You know I only came here out of sympathy, and I tell you here is missionary work enough to be done. I don’t know but my sympathy will give out, for

[ p 43 ]

these boys do require so much mending, and to keep them fed is a difficult task. But when I remember their poor mother, I am so full of sympathy that I stay on, and while I am here the Indians and every other savage will have to get along without me.”

These remarks were made with an air of conceit that seemed to show that Hannah thought she had the full control of the Briggs house. As the Pendleton girls rose to go, Hannah said, “I don’t think overmuch of Dolly Sprague, for I hear she pretends to sympathize with this poor afflicted family; but she never comes here, and I mean she never shall have the chance, though I guess she would like to.”

“Yes,” replied the younger of the Pendletons, “Miss Dolly spoke very kindly of the family this afternoon, and I presume would be ready to do for them, only you are here, and she wouldn’t want to interfere with your affairs.”

“She’d better not, or any one else as long as I am here,” replied Hannah, with a toss of her head that seemed to imply, what Hannah Nibbs don’t know is of little use to any one.

Early in her stay at the Briggs home, Miss Nibbs claimed to have done invaluable service by successfully warning off the rats that infested the house and were extremely destructive. In this, as in many ways, she applied what she had seen her mother practice. She went through the house, above and below, beating a tin pan with a cream stick most violently, thus calling the attention of the whole rat family, and shouting, “Leave this house, leave this house; go over to Dr. Preston’s, go over to Dr. Preston’s!” [^2] At that time she entertained most unfriendly feelings towards the doctor of the town, so she tried

[ p 44 ]

to perform double service by this peculiar warning — to rid the Briggs family of a great annoyance and to lodge the enemy at the home of the town physician.

[ interior sketch ]
Hannah warned away the rats.

Mr. Briggs and his boys suffered on through the fall and winter, while the pretended sympathy of Hannah was sufficiently strong to keep her at her chosen post of duty; yet every week, when paid her regular compensation by Mr. Briggs, she would say, “Now, Mr. Briggs, you know this ‘two and threepence’ is not what keeps me here, for it is nothing but sympathy that tempts me to leave my home and take the place of poor Mrs. Briggs; [^3] she was a blessed good neighbor —” [^4] At this point she always drew out a faded red and yellow homespun handkerchief, and wiped the tears that flowed from her large gray eyes as easily as rain falls in April, while she made free use of her snuff-box.

A week before “March meeting,” there came a fresh fall of snow, and Sally Pendleton had made up her mind that she would start out on a little mission.

[ p 45 ]

She tripped down to call on Hannah, and Mr. Briggs as well; but Hannah, not seeming to be very agreeable, was soon left in the room alone, and Sally, with the two boys, went to call Mr. Briggs, who was in the lot getting wood. Sally had an errand with him, she said.

“Smart errand,” said Hannah, as soon as they were out of hearing. I guess she won’t make out much, although they have got money up there; for Mr. Briggs thinks more of himself than to take one of them gals to fill Lucy’s place.”

Hannah’s whole conduct indicated greater fear than her words would imply. In response to her call for tea, Mr. Briggs and the boys came in, pleasantly chatting, and Hannah overheard in the conversation, “Can I go too, father?” from Josiah, the younger of the boys; the reply she did not hear.

She poured the tea with much nervousness, and seemed to have but little appetite. “Got a fresh cold hanging out that washing; nothing but sympathy would tempt me to do it,” said Miss Nibbs, emphatically, with her face drawn down in a manner that foretold the usual shower, while she fumbled in her pocket, which was a false one tied, under her skirt, for the ever ready handkerchief of rainbow hue.

Before retiring for the night, Mr. Briggs got out his best boots, brushed them, and took “a clean shave,” preparatory to an early start on the following morning. Hannah, who was at a critical point in her stocking, “setting the heel,” occasionally turned up one eye, and having endured it as long as she could, burst out by saying, “I suppose you are going off with Sally Pendleton. Now, Mr. Briggs, you know I came here out of sympathy, and I feel it to be my

[ p 46 ]

duty to tell you what everybody says, — that Sally Pendleton means to step into Lucy Briggs’ shoes, and your poor wife not nine months dead. I wouldn’t have thought it; I wouldn’t have thought it; no, I wouldn’t!”

When Miss Nibbs recovered from her hysterical attack, Mr. Briggs, feeling disgusted with the conduct of his housekeeper, gently said, ”Miss Nibbs, I believe I paid you last Saturday, didn’t I? “

“Yes,” she stammered, “but it ain’t money that keeps me here, it’s sympathy; and to see you go off in this way makes me feel dreadfully for poor Mrs. Briggs’ sake; her memory is precious to me if it ain’t to other folks.” The reply, in faltering accents, was followed by the ever ready shower that burst forth in copious drops.

Mr. Briggs was a man of but few words, yet he did venture to make one request, which was, that breakfast might be ready early, as he was going to Boston in the morning and would like to take the trip in a sleigh, the roads being best before mid-day. Nothing more was heard until early dawn, when Mr. Briggs was stirring the coals and the boys were hastening around to aid in the chores.

When Miss Nibbs appeared, it was evident she was suffering from a severe cold; yet she aided in preparing breakfast, all the time keeping watchful eyes on the movements of Mr. Briggs as he made the needful preparations and gave orders to the boys about the work of the day. Mr. Briggs hadn’t been long out of the yard before Hannah ventured to ask Josiah which way his father had gone. On finding that it was towards the Pendletons, she came into the house somewhat rudely, and said half aloud, [^5] “Up the road,

[ p 47 ]

sure enough, — that ain’t the way to Boston. He’s a liar with all the rest; yes, he is. I will tell Mr. Whitford before noon, I will. Yes, he’s a liar and a member of the church too. I’ll never go to communion again as long as he lives, I won’t. When he gets home he’ll come pretty short, I guess, for I won’t cook anything to-day. I’m almost sick with a cold, all from hanging out them clothes yesterday. Who would do all this for sympathy but me?”

“Sally,” squeaked out a roguish youngster, who had become disgusted with the conduct of the housekeeper, “there she goes now; ” and the passing sleigh, containing Mr. Briggs and Sally Pendleton, just met the eyes of Miss Nibbs, as the bells jingled by the door on the way to Boston.

“Just as I expected. Sally Pendleton was over here yesterday and teased Mr. Briggs to take her to Boston. Just as likely as not she is going after her wedding fixin’s.”

She threw herself into the rocking-chair and continued the impassioned soliloquy: “What treatment! When I came here and left mother alone with the girls, of course they were lonesome after father’s death, just as much as Mr. Briggs was after burying his wife. I won’t stay any longer. I’ll pack up my things and go right straight home, and when he comes back he may get his own supper or go without. I guess he’ll have to. Who will get it for him and these hungry boys?”

“Sally!” cried out the same roguish voice from behind the entry door.

“Sally!” shouted Miss Nibbs, as she rocked out of her chair, “and so she may. I guess she won’t show you much sympathy though.”

[ p 48 ]

[ outdoor sketch ]
Miss Nibbs left the Briggs Home.

A few moments passed and Miss Nibbs was seen with carpet bag in hand, headed for her home, and the house left without a woman’s voice or work. The boys, having a very good understanding of culinary affairs, had a meal prepared for their father and the chores all done when he reached home in the early evening. Their account of the departure of Miss Nibbs seemed to move Mr. Briggs but little, for he was a cool, self-possessed man, of few words and decided action.

The way Sally Pendleton happened to go to Boston with Mr. Briggs was this, although she may have had other intentions; but Mr. Briggs was strongly fortified against all designs of a serious nature. That he was going to drive to Boston was known by the Pendletons, and Sally made bold to ask for the privilege

[ p 49 ]

of riding with him, which he could not very well refuse after all they had done for him during the illness of Mrs. Briggs. That she rode down and back was all the story. Mr. Briggs was well pleased, on entering the house, to find that his two boys had assumed the charge of affairs. As soon as tea was over, he sent George to the Nibbs house with the portion of a week’s pay that was due Miss Hannah, and also his sincere gratitude for all her sympathy had prompted her to do for him and his family.

“With the youthful housekeepers in charge, I will leave the Briggs family for the present and tell you more of them some other time,” said grandma, in closing her story for the evening. [^6]


SOURCE TEXT


EMENDATIONS

  1. “How ∨ “how
  2. Preston’s!” ∨ Preston’s.”
  3. threepence’ ∨ thre’pence’
  4. At this ∨ at this
  5. aloud, ∨ alond,
  6. time,” said grandma,
    ∨ time, said grandma,”

ANNOTATIONS

  1. cf. KJV’s Mark 7:37
  2. “span clean”: spotless

⇐ BACKNEXT ⇒
Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started
%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close