Mysterious Room [8/18]

Eighth evening.

It required some time for the Pendleton sons and daughters to realize that they had given up their power to Mr. Briggs before they had a right to exercise it in reality; but the good mother manifested no desire to assume any responsibility whatever, and in fact her children had implicit confidence in Mr. Briggs, and he would have succeeded in doing what he felt was his duty, with but little opposition, only that Hanson Page and some others filled them with ideas that were prompted by feelings of jealousy. Many of the townfolks had a great longing to fill the position which Mr. Briggs was to occupy.

Ike Fuller’s desire to work off some of his jewelry led him to make too many calls on the younger Pendletons for their good; in fact, he did not hesitate to make his flattering offers before the burial of the father, and Page’s steers did tempt Saul. While

[ p 73 ]

these pretended friends, but mischief makers in reality, were filling the heads of the girls and Saul, Mr. Briggs was making preparations for the funeral.

Squire Taylor, as he was commonly known, being a Justice of the Peace and a carpenter by trade, was making the coffin, and Hannah Nibbs was gathering the folds in some dark brown calico for the last garment, and hastening to finish off the gowns that were now actually needed. The people of the little town had generally learned that Mr. Pendleton was dead, for the bell in the old church belfry that stood apart from the meeting house had for five minutes slowly pealed forth its measured notes, proclaiming to all that a death had taken place, and warning them to be ready to count. After a pause of two minutes the rapid strokes of the bell-man counted up to ninety-four, which convinced all that Hezekiah Pendleton had gone, for he was the oldest citizen in the village.

Bridge Potter, brother to Patty, happened to drop into Taylor’s shop, and finding Ike Fuller there, stopped to inquire into the particulars of the last hours of Mr. Pendleton, and see Squire Taylor put the staining on the surface of the rude pine coffin that was about completed.

“Pendleton can have that room all to himself, and there is no need of a lock to it either,” said Bridge thoughtlessly, pointing to the coffin, that was just receiving the finishing touches by the Squire.

“Sure enough,” replied Fuller; “and I guess he’d be glad to have a chance to let in a little air, for I reckon he’ll want all the breeze there is where he’s gone.”

“These were unkind remarks indeed, my boy, as you well know, and no kind-hearted, thoughtful person would talk in

[ p 74 ]

that way; but Potter and Fuller were rough, and thoughtless of the feelings of others, and the life of Mr. Pendleton had been such that the best of people had but little reason to express sympathy for the family or to respect the memory of the dead.”

Seth, who was feared by his brother and sisters, went home soon after Mr. Briggs took the key, and, unfortunately, indulged his appetite too freely, and being under the influence of liquor, did not appear at the old home until the day of the funeral; and it was to be regretted that he came then, for, knowing that Mr. Briggs was one of the active members of the temperance society, he believed he would not provide the complement of liquors for the funeral, and being determined “that father should have a good sendoff,” he came on with a supply of punch all ready made, and had Ike Fuller, Hanson Page, Bridge Potter, and some others, who gathered early in the afternoon of the funeral day, well filled before Mr. Briggs found it out; who, when he did learn of the state of affairs, remonstrated with Seth; [*1] but on finding him determined, gave up and let him have his own way, rather than have a scene of discord, just as the townfolks were gathering. The girls had proposed that black gloves be furnished for all the mourners, having seen this done in some families of note; but Saul did not favor it, as none but home-made mittens had ever been on his bony hands, and “What is good enough for me is good enough for any one who will come here,” said Saul, with a veto of emphasis.

Mr. Briggs had no such ideas and readily acceded to the desire of Saul, and gloves were not furnished. Just before the company were seated in the best room for the services, Seth called the neighbors who had

[ p 75 ]

been selected for bearers out one side, and gave them another round of punch, saying, “Drink hearty, for you’ve got a long tramp to the yard. To be sure, the old gent don’t weigh much, yet you’ll need it.” But five of the eight responded to his call. [*2] Three of them had joined the temperance society, and believed it was incumbent upon them to keep the pledge even on such an occasion as this.

“The customs in the days of the Pendletons were very unlike those of the present, so the proceedings of Seth were not looked upon as they would be now. There was no such thing as a hearse in which to carry the dead, and at times the coffin was borne on the shoulders of four men. In later years they had a frame, called a bier, with four handles to it on which the coffin was placed and carried to the grave much more easily. Eight bearers were selected, so as to give an opportunity for rest to four, without delaying the procession.”

[ interior sketch (inset) ]
[ interior sketch ]
1. Squire Taylor made the Coffin.
2. The Funeral of Hezekiah Pendleton.

[ p 76 ]

As the yard was quite a long distance from the Pendleton home, the full number was very necessary at the burial of Mr. Pendleton. Miss Nibbs was selected as the general directress of affairs in the house, with the exception of what Seth would attend to. Priscilla, who was very particular about the appearance of the rooms, came into the living apartment just before Mr. Whitford began the reading of the Scriptures and gave her last orders to Hannah. Her coarse voice was heard through all the rooms, as the silence that is customary in the presence of death had taken possession. “Miss Nibbs, if you see any ants on the dresser, you brush them off.”

It is needless to say that some people were inclined to smile at these directions of Priscilla, regardless of the hour and the occasion.

The service being over, many stood about in a circle, while Ike Fuller brought in a pailful of toddy and passed it around, greatly to the disgust of many, but to the pleasure of others, who quietly said, “Seth is doing it up in good shape.” It was noticed that Hanson Page changed his position during the passing of the drink and so located himself as to have a second opportunity, and he showed its effects before he reached the grave.

Rev. Mr. Whitford took Mrs. Pendleton into his chaise and followed immediately behind the bearers and the body. The other members of the family walked to the grave, as horses were not very numerous and carriages were hardly known; only the minister and doctor, with a few wealthy people, had them. Mr. Briggs and Hannah Nibbs remained at the house. Hannah was to prepare tea for the family

[ p 77 ]

and neighbors who had been asked in to eat with the mourners on their return from the grave.

Before sunset, Seth was carried home, worse from the effects of his liquors, and before all the people had retired. Mr. Briggs, knowing that Seth was located for the night, and fearing nothing from the other members of the family, decided to go home, and Hannah Nibbs also left the house. The family were alone, a sad time generally in a home that has been visited by death; but sorrow did not enter here, only as the heart of the good old mother was pained, as she recalled the years of her early married life, when her husband was considerate of her feelings, and when they labored and planned together to provide for the wants of their growing family. Could one have looked in upon them in the early hour of darkness, he would have seen Saul and the sisters skulking about the house by the light of a dim candle. What were they doing, do you ask?

“We’ll pay Seth for getting the Simpson farm away from Dad in that way,” whispered Saul, fearing Mother might be disturbed; and knowing she would not countenance anything of the kind, they did not want her to appear. Had one been outside the house an hour later, he would have seen, by the light of the stars that twinkled in the crisp atmosphere of that November night, three tall figures start from the back door of the house, come around to the front by a circuitous path, cross the highway and pass on into the cattle yard and disappear from view. [^1] One, apparently in female attire, seemed to lead the way, having in hand a tin frame punctured with small holes, through which the flickering rays of a lighted candle dimly shone, but aided in seeing the outline of the

[ p 78 ]

other two figures, one of which seemed to be bending over a heavy burden, while the other carried what appeared to be a frame of some kind in one hand and a spade in the other. Their shadows, cast by the dim light, revealed their stealthy movements.

[ exterior sketch ]
The Night after the Funeral. [*3]


SOURCE TEXT


EMENDATIONS

  1. Had one been ∨ Had one have been

ANNOTATIONS

  1. “remonstrated”: expressed disapproval
  2. “But”: Only
  3. “Illustrations” calls this sketch “Hiding the Treasures”. (p 8)

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