The Room Of The Evil Thought





THEY called it the room of the Evil

Thought. It was really the pleas-

antest room in the house, and

when the place had been used as

the rectory, was the minister's study. It

looked out on a mournful clump of larches,

such as may often be seen in the old-fash-

ioned yards in Michigan, and these threw a

tender gloom over the apartment.



There was a wide fireplace in the room,

and it had been the young minister's habit

to sit there hours and hours, staring ahead of

him at the fire, and smoking moodily. The

replenishing of the fire and of his pipe, it

was said, would afford him occupation all

the day long, and that was how it came about

that his parochial duties were neglected so

that, little by little, the people became dis-

satisfied with him, though he was an eloquent

young man, who could send his congregation

away drunk on his influence. However, the

calmer pulsed among his parish began to

whisper that it was indeed the influence of

the young minister and not that of the Holy

Ghost which they felt, and it was finally

decided that neither animal magnetism nor

hypnotism were good substitutes for religion.

And so they let him go.



The new rector moved into a smart brick

house on the other side of the church, and

gave receptions and dinner parties, and was

punctilious about making his calls. The

people therefore liked him very much -- so

much that they raised the debt on the church

and bought a chime of bells, in their enthu-

siasm. Every one was lighter of heart than

under the ministration of the previous rector.

A burden appeared to be lifted from the com-

munity. True, there were a few who con-

fessed the new man did not give them the

food for thought which the old one had done,

but, then, the former rector had made them

uncomfortable! He had not only made them

conscious of the sins of which they were

already guilty, but also of those for which

they had the latent capacity. A strange and

fatal man, whom women loved to their sor-

row, and whom simple men could not under-

stand! It was generally agreed that the parish

was well rid of him.



"He was a genius," said the people in

commiseration. The word was an uncom-

plimentary epithet with them.



When the Hanscoms moved in the house

which had been the old rectory, they gave

Grandma Hanscom the room with the fire-

place. Grandma was well pleased. The

roaring fire warmed her heart as well as her

chill old body, and she wept with weak joy

when she looked at the larches, because they

reminded her of the house she had lived in

when she was first married. All the forenoon

of the first day she was busy putting things

away in bureau drawers and closets, but by

afternoon she was ready to sit down in her

high-backed rocker and enjoy the comforts of

her room.



She nodded a bit before the fire, as she

usually did after luncheon, and then she

awoke with an awful start and sat staring

before her with such a look in her gentle,

filmy old eyes as had never been there before.

She did not move, except to rock slightly,

and the Thought grew and grew till her face

was disguised as by some hideous mask of

tragedy.



By and by the children came pounding at

the door.



"Oh, grandma, let us in, please. We

want to see your new room, and mamma

gave us some ginger cookies on a plate, and

we want to give some to you."



The door gave way under their assaults, and

the three little ones stood peeping in, wait-

ing for permission to enter. But it did not

seem to be their grandma -- their own dear

grandma -- who arose and tottered toward

them in fierce haste, crying:



"Away, away! Out of my sight! Out of

my sight before I do the thing I want to do!

Such a terrible thing! Send some one to me

quick, children, children! Send some one

quick!"



They fled with feet shod with fear, and

their mother came, and Grandma Hanscom

sank down and clung about her skirts and

sobbed:



"Tie me, Miranda. Make me fast to the

bed or the wall. Get some one to watch me.

For I want to do an awful thing!"



They put the trembling old creature in bed,

and she raved there all the night long and

cried out to be held, and to be kept from

doing the fearful thing, whatever it was -- for

she never said what it was.



The next morning some one suggested tak-

ing her in the sitting-room where she would

be with the family. So they laid her on the

sofa, hemmed around with cushions, and

before long she was her quiet self again,

though exhausted, naturally, with the tumult

of the previous night. Now and then, as the

children played about her, a shadow crept

over her face -- a shadow as of cold remem-

brance -- and then the perplexed tears

followed.



When she seemed as well as ever they put

her back in her room. But though the fire

glowed and the lamp burned, as soon as ever

she was alone they heard her shrill cries ring-

ing to them that the Evil Thought had come

again. So Hal, who was home from col-

lege, carried her up to his room, which

she seemed to like very well. Then he went

down to have a smoke before grandma's

fire.



The next morning he was absent from break-

fast. They thought he might have gone for

an early walk, and waited for him a few min-

utes. Then his sister went to the room that

looked upon the larches, and found him

dressed and pacing the floor with a face set

and stern. He had not been in bed at all,

as she saw at once. His eyes were bloodshot,

his face stricken as if with old age or sin or

-- but she could not make it out. When he

saw her he sank in a chair and covered his

face with his hands, and between the trembling

fingers she could see drops of perspiration on

his forehead.



"Hal!" she cried, "Hal, what is it?"



But for answer he threw his arms about the

little table and clung to it, and looked at her

with tortured eyes, in which she fancied she

saw a gleam of hate. She ran, screaming,

from the room, and her father came and went

up to him and laid his hands on the boy's

shoulders. And then a fearful thing hap-

pened. All the family saw it. There could

be no mistake. Hal's hands found their way

with frantic eagerness toward his father's

throat as if they would choke him, and the

look in his eyes was so like a madman's that

his father raised his fist and felled him as he

used to fell men years before in the college

fights, and then dragged him into the sitting-

room and wept over him.



By evening, however, Hal was all right, and

the family said it must have been a fever, --

perhaps from overstudy, -- at which Hal cov-

ertly smiled. But his father was still too

anxious about him to let him out of his sight,

so he put him on a cot in his room, and thus

it chanced that the mother and Grace con-

cluded to sleep together downstairs.



The two women made a sort of festival of

it, and drank little cups of chocolate before

the fire, and undid and brushed their brown

braids, and smiled at each other, understand-

ingly, with that sweet intuitive sympathy

which women have, and Grace told her

mother a number of things which she had

been waiting for just such an auspicious oc-

casion to confide.



But the larches were noisy and cried out

with wild voices, and the flame of the fire

grew blue and swirled about in the draught

sinuously, so that a chill crept upon the two.

Something cold appeared to envelop them --

such a chill as pleasure voyagers feel when

a berg steals beyond Newfoundland and

glows blue and threatening upon their ocean

path.



Then came something else which was not

cold, but hot as the flames of hell -- and they

saw red, and stared at each other with mad-

dened eyes, and then ran together from the

room and clasped in close embrace safe

beyond the fatal place, and thanked God

they had not done the thing that they dared

not speak of -- the thing which suddenly came

to them to do.



So they called it the room of the Evil

Thought. They could not account for it.

They avoided the thought of it, being healthy

and happy folk. But none entered it more.

The door was locked.



One day, Hal, reading the paper, came

across a paragraph concerning the young min-

ister who had once lived there, and who had

thought and written there and so influenced

the lives of those about him that they remem-

bered him even while they disapproved.



"He cut a man's throat on board ship for

Australia," said he, "and then he cut his own,

without fatal effect -- and jumped overboard,

and so ended it. What a strange thing!"



Then they all looked at one another with

subtle looks, and a shadow fell upon them

and stayed the blood at their hearts.



The next week the room of the Evil Thought

was pulled down to make way for a pansy bed,

which is quite gay and innocent, and blooms

all the better because the larches, with their

eternal murmuring, have been laid low and

carted away to the sawmill.





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