Mysterious Room [7/18]

Seventh evening.

Mr. Pendleton lived some years after the party at the Nibbs’, but, sad to say, he did not profit by his illness that so excited the family and others. As soon as he was able to get to his room, he crawled up those dilapidated stairs and continued to rule his family with the same tyrannical force; his anxiety for a better preparation for the future life was all over when assured that death had loosed its grip, but the time came when it was perfectly apparent that his strength was waning not to revive again; and early one autumn morning, when the grass was still crisp with the frost of the night, Saul Pendleton entered the home of Mr. Briggs hastily and said, “Dr. Preston says Dad is going this time and can’t live long. I don’t believe he will ever git off his bed again, and Sally and Priscilla want me to git the key from him and git into that old room and see what he has got there before he dies. You know that Seth got that Simpson farm right away from us, and Hanson Page tells us to git the start of him now and look out for ourselves and come up to him in

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some way, so the gals have sent me down to see what you think of it.”

Mr. Briggs did not approve of the course of Mr. Pendleton in regard to the Simpson farm after he learned that Saul and the girls did not have anything in way of an offset; but he could not indorse the plan that Hanson Page had advised, and in reply to Saul’s question said, “Now that you have come to me for advice on this matter, I will give it, for I think it is a very serious question. I think you had better do nothing of the kind. Your father has kept that room sacred to his own use for twenty years, and no one has stepped into it but himself; now let his last days and hours be undisturbed, and don’t meddle with the room or the key.”

“Oh, he has got the key tied by a leather string about his neck, and there is no way to git it while he knows anything, but to cut the string and take it in spite of him,” said Saul.

“No, Saul, I would never trouble him about it, but let him die in peace as far as you are concerned,” repeated Mr. Briggs with a shake of his head.

Saul, who was reluctant to abandon his plan to get into that room, and by the aid of the girls to secure something to balance the Simpson farm, was hard to be convinced that he must not do it, yet at last concluded to go home and abide by the advice of the ever faithful Mr. Briggs. Saul had no sooner reached home than Sally made her appearance at the Briggs house in a business-like manner and sought advice on a different subject.

“Now,” said she, “Saul has told you that father won’t live long, but a few days at the longest, and we want to git ready for the funeral. We must have a

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good black gown each of us, and it ought to be made right off, for there will be no time after father is dead. We have no money on hand to git the cloth with, and we want to know if you will let us have the money until we can pay it back to you, and if you,” turning to Mrs. Briggs, “will go to Boston and get the goods.” On being assured that all these requests would be granted, Sally continued, “I think you had better git a good lot of crape for our bonnets too. Git enough for mother, Priscilla and me. We ain’t going to do as Hepsy Page did, when her mother died, go all about the town and borrow everything she wanted, not a bit of that. You’ll git your pay one of these days, no matter whether Seth likes it or not. Just let us git hold of that key and we will show him who had the Simpson farm. I am going right over to see if Hannah Nibbs will come and make our gowns just as soon as you git the goods; and will you go to-day? “

Leaving Mr. and Mrs. Briggs to consider the matter, Sally started off to see Hannah and engage her to come to do the work; returning in a very short time, she stopped to report her success. Hannah was only too willing to make the engagement, being not a little impelled by her curiosity. Mr. Briggs had consented to drive with his wife to Boston on the following day, which was the best he could do, and by some persuasion convinced Sally that there would be sufficient time to prepare for the funeral if they did not go for some days; but such a delay could not be considered for a moment by the anxious visitor, while she believed, after Mr. Briggs’ talk with her, that her father would last some time, yet said she always liked to have things on hand.

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As soon as it was convenient for Miss Nibbs to leave home, she started out among the neighbors “to learn the most suitable way for making the gowns,” she said; but it was very plain that she was so delighted with the prospect of being at the Pendletons’ when the father should die, that she could not control herself; [^1] in fact, the hours dragged heavily and she expressed much fear that his end would come before the gowns were done. Hannah had not been very cordial to Mrs. Briggs and had not called upon her since she had become the occupant of their neighbor’s home; [^2] but she did say to Mrs. Johnson this afternoon that she was glad Dolly was going to select the goods as she had excellent taste. She felt so happy over the prospect of being at the Pendletons’, that she had a pleasant word for every one and but a little fault to find with any. [^3] It was perfectly evident that she hoped to be present when the forbidden door should be opened that she might get a look into the mysterious room.

Mr. and Mrs. Briggs, good as their word, started for Boston as early in the following day as the duties of the farm would permit, and purchased all the necessary articles, and the succeeding morning found Miss Nibbs seated in a narrow room across the dingy entry from the larger room, where the little russet-faced man lay curled up in bed, hugging his key and fighting the grim messenger that was hovering over the dwelling and would not be turned away until the work was done.

“My child,” said grandma, “had their father done his duty by these children, they would have been spending their time in providing for his little wants in his last hours, instead of making preparations for a fine appearance after his death, for

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it is plain to be seen that the only evidence of mourning was to be their dress. I do not mean that they neglected the aged parent in his last hours, but their mind was not fully on him as is generally the case when a parent is sinking away.”

The ever-faithful pastor called in the afternoon and tried to talk with the sinking man, but it was too late. If the fourscore and fourteen years of his life had not furnished hours for his preparation of soul, these last days would not, [*1][^4] and his hearing was so impaired that he could not follow the good friend when pleading at the Throne of Grace for him, so he interrupted the prayer by crying out, “I want a drink so, I’m most choked.”

This rather hastened the Christian friend and pastor, who, with “amen” and a kindly word for the family, left the house for the last time while Hezekiah Pendleton lived.

Seth was the oldest of the Pendleton children, and Hanson Page had driven around by his house and convinced him that it was his privilege to take the command of things at his father’s, now the aged parent had become so weak that he could no longer rule. So he left his wife Patty in charge at the Simpson farm, for it was still known by that name long after Seth Pendleton became the possessor, and went over to the homestead and began to assert his rights according to the directions of Hanson Page. Seth was in the house when Mr. Whitford was there, but kept quiet until the good minister was well down the hill on his way home.

“I think it was fortunate that Mr. Pendleton was deaf and that his eyesight was so dim that he did not realize anything of the scene that took place in his own room, but a little while before his spirit left the body. It was very differ-

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ent from that which you witnessed when your grandfather passed away. You well remember how we administered to his wants because of our love for him, which his good, generous life had called forth from us. When we saw that life was gone, you remember, we all felt that his example was one that we ought to try to follow; but when poor Hezekiah Pendleton passed away, no one could say that his life had been such as to furnish an example for good, or regarded his memory precious for any acts of kindness that he had performed of late years, although in his early days he was a different man, for those characteristics that were so strong in his last years had gradually grown upon him. Surely those last hours furnished a scene that I hope will never be repeated, and probably would never have been known to the world, had it not been for Hannah Nibbs, whose curiosity prompted her to divide her attention between the mourning gowns and the sick room, making her desire to have a ‘good fit’ a most plausible excuse for intruding on the family as they stood about the aged father in the last hours of his life.”

The good old mother sat trembling with emotion, no doubt forgetting the scores of years that were now closing, and recalling the early days of her married life, when they had less wealth and more real comfort. [*2] At such times, great faults are overshadowed by the virtues of earlier days, that is, in the minds of those who have known them in both, as, when we are passing through a severe storm, we recall with much pleasure the bright sunny days that have preceded it. Seth, with his broad shoulders, hard fists, unshaven face and bloated countenance, for his habits had begun to tell upon him already, sat at one side of the bed, and Saul had equally as prominent a place on the opposite side, while the two girls, for such they were always called, until they left the old home, were near at hand; each of the four was anxious for the end of the father’s life, but the latter three were quietly planning in their own minds some

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way “to come up” with Seth, and make sure of a share to balance the Simpson farm.

“I want you all to understand,” said Seth, “that I am the oldest, and I am going to manage things here when father is done with them, and that will be pretty soon too, by the appearances now,” stooping over the bed to see if breath still lingered in the aged parent. “I shall take that key as soon as he is dead, and I’ll see what is in that room in spite of you.”

The good mother, who had been kept down so long, did not once think that she had any right to a voice in the matter, hence said nothing and only feared the scene that would follow the death of her husband. At this point a voice from the lower room checked the conversation. Not one of the children of the old couple being willing to trust the others in the room during their absence, Hannah was called to go and see who was there and attend to his wants. It was Ike Fuller, who, on learning the state of affairs, did not wait to be asked, but pushed his way to the sick room, exclaiming as soon as entering, “Wall, wall, the old gent is about gone and you will soon have matters in your own hands, mother,” turning to Mrs. Pendleton and addressing her familiarly, as was his custom, for he was not an infrequent visitor to the Pendleton home.

“What’s that?” shouted Seth, “I’m the oldest and I guess I shall manage affairs myself.”

“Tut, tut,” said Ike; “it’s your mother’s privilege to say who shall attend to matters if she is not able to do it, and of course she is not.”

Here the good woman took courage and said, “I will send for Mr. Briggs,” and addressing Mr. Fuller

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said, “Will you go right down for him and tell him father is about gone and that I want him to come right up here? “

Ike was soon off, rather glad to be able to do the errand, in hopes to be asked to return, and possibly to get a look into that room.

Mr. Briggs was soon at the Pendletons and Ike Fuller with him. The good old lady had seemed to change in her appearance in the very few moments that had elapsed since being told that she had some rights, and she quietly withdrew to another room with Mr. Briggs, to tell him the condition of things, while the four ignorant, avaricious children of the aged couple stood watching the father and each other.

The sewing room of Hannah Nibbs was so located that she could hear the conversation from both parties, and, according to her story, the change that came over Mrs. Pendleton was wonderful when she realized that it was her right to speak and exercise a little authority. Before Mr. Briggs left the house, it was wisely agreed that everything should be put in his charge, but that the key should not be touched even by him, until death had done its work. On directing Ike Fuller to stay until he returned, Mr. Briggs went home to arrange his private business so that he could devote most of the immediate future to the new responsibilities which he had reluctantly taken.

While watching with the sinking man and the family, Fuller made good use of the time by displaying the merits of his jewelry and telling wonderful things of his brindled steers. Strange subjects for such an hour, you say, so did Miss Nibbs; but you

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must remember that Fuller was a rough, unprincipled man, was always ready for a trade, and had an eye to some of the money that was soon to leave the grasp of Mr. Pendleton and start into circulation. His bogus watch and chain, with those flashing seal rings, looked fine to Saul and Priscilla, who silently declared they would have some of that sort one of these days.

While Ike Fuller was talking with Page, who had dropped in, the aged father passed away, and when Mr. Briggs returned, hastened by Hannah’s call, there sat Mother Pendleton, Seth, Saul, Sally and Priscilla around the bed, on which lay the lifeless form of husband, father, miser. Fuller and Page were abashed in the presence of death, and stood in the rear.

[ interior sketch ]
The Miser’s Death Bed.

Mr. Briggs, with his characteristic dignity, stepped forward and said, “According to your agreement, in

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your presence and in the presence of Isaac Fuller, Hanson Page, and Hannah Nibbs,” who, with an unfinished garment in hand stood in the doorway, “I take possession of this key,” cutting the string that held it to the poor, emaciated form, and formally placing it in his breast-pocket.

A life of ninety-four years had closed with but few regrets, save that the influence of this long life could not be more helpful to the community in which it had been spent.


SOURCE TEXT


EMENDATIONS

  1. Pendletons’ ∨ Pendletons
  2. had become ∨ became
  3. Pendletons’, ∨ Pendletons,
  4. would not, ∨ did not,

ANNOTATIONS

  1. “fourscore and fourteen”: ninety-four
  2. “scores of”: many

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