A Colonial Wooing/Chapter 1

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A Colonial Wooing  (1895)  by Charles Conrad Abbott
Chapter 1: A Fruitless Discussion

A Colonial Wooing

Chapter I.

A Fruitless Discussion.

"Mother, John has spoken—"

"Daughter, father will not approve—"

"Of John's having remarked it is a pleasant day?"

"I supposed that thee meant that he had—"

"Suggested so serious a matter as my taking up—"

"Daughter, thee is strangely giddy—"

"Mother, is thee not strangely hasty to suppose—"

"Ruth, dear, let me—"

"Yes, mother; but first let me—"

Both talked so nearly at once that it might be said that neither listened, and now a word as to who these people were, this mother and daughter who apparently agreed only to disagree. It stands recorded in the minutes of an English Monthly Meeting of the Society of Friends that in the year 1666 Edmund Davenport, of Ayton, and Anne Pearson, of Monthorp, were married at Kirby Grindale. Their daughter Ruth was born twelve years after; and it is further on record that her mother, widowed but a year, married Matthew Watson, and in 1682 emigrated to America, and thirteen years later, having weathered all the privations of those primitive times, Ruth was a well-grown girl of seventeen and her mother a well-preserved woman of fifty. Constant toil, some anxiety, and a scarcely concealed longing for her old home across the sea had told upon the mother, and she would have been judged to be older than she really was when seen, as she was this bright October afternoon, busy with the much needed mending of various garments, for there were now two boys to care for. Thus occupied, Anne Watson was more disposed to look backward and recall the brighter days long gone, and who can indulge in retrospective thought without its sobering the countenance, when the present ill compares to the past? Not that the woman was positively unhappy, but she had opposed the suggestion of coming to America, when broached, and yielded with but a mere show of grace. In short, in spite of much effort and prayer, she could not quite overcome her disappointment; and then Friend Stacy had seen the country from a man's point of view, and the acquiring of an estate being six-sevenths of his thought, he had grossly misrepresented the country, and there were endless hardships that the woman had to endure for years after their arrival. Matthew Watson, too, was wholly engrossed in the same worldly occupation of acquiring an estate.

To be poor and yet a Friend was simply a contradiction. Inability to acquire wealth argued an understanding too feeble to appreciate the teachings of George Fox. Business, the concerns of the world, may perhaps not have been quite six-sevenths of the Friends' concerns, but it would seem as if as much effort was required to shake the dust from their shoes, when they entered meeting on the first day, as to shake the worldliness from their thoughts. How else, then, can we explain the remark during silent meeting one fifth day morning of Mahlon Stacy, when, hearing a loud clap of thunder, he muttered audibly, "Tut-tut-tut! my hay." Duty had brought him from the meadow to the meeting, but at a critical moment had left him in the lurch.

But more than all else that had sobered Ruth's mother was Ruth herself; for, as events in the past had proved, the mother was conscientiously a Friend and accepted Fox implicitly as her teacher and guide, and now as her daughter approached womanhood, she essayed, but in vain, to have her like unto herself. Ruth, although surrounded by Quaker influences all her life, soon began to make, so the world holds, the fatal mistake of thinking for herself. While never disobedient as a child, she was always independent, and the excellence of her judgment caused frequent comment among her elders, but not dissociated with the fear that she might, by her too great self-reliance, prove something of a thorn in her parents' flesh in years to come. Her comely figure, the grace of every movement, and the brightness of dark-blue eyes that the hideous bonnet of those bigoted days could not conceal, caused many a young head to be turned as she entered meeting, and this the elders, in sober array in the gallery, had too often noticed not to hint at the unseemliness of the habit. "It is a concern upon my mind that we should restrain our children more; their thoughts are too much of this world and too little of their souls' salvation," Friend Stacy had recently remarked, and Ruth had severely criticised him when she reached home. "Why should we be restrained from loving that which is neither a device of man nor the devil. There is color, music, gayety everywhere, except in our houses, and yet we are asked to turn our backs upon it. That's what his sermon amounts to. I can look, without offence, at a blooming rose, if it is out of reach, but must not pick it or put it on my kerchief. Mustn't indeed! I will." And with this vehement protest Ruth darted from the house, and before her parents could recover their astonishment, returned with an apron-full of scarlet autumn leaves and scattered them over the kitchen floor; then standing in front of her mother, who looked ill with fright, asked, "Would thee have the whole world steeped in dust and dinginess; never a blue sky or a rosy sunset? Always clouds above and bare ground beneath? Oh, for the gay cousins that we have in England, for which thee feel so much concern! How I would like to see them!" And again away she flew like a frightened bird, seeing that at last she had overtaxed her father's patience and he was about to speak. An hour later, when he came in, evidently with a fixed determination to sternly rebuke his step-daughter, he found her demure as the soberest "Friend" in all Chesterfield, and with "No Cross, No Crown," lying opened upon her lap. She looked up with the merest trace of a smile lighting her face, and as it had always been, he was moved to say nothing. Matthew Watson was proud of his step-daughter and afraid of his neighbors, but could not have been forced to admit it. He had heard more than one comment that inwardly moved him, yet deemed it prudence not to speak in her defence. His standing in meeting might be affected. It had been soberly stated that the sun shone about her even when the day was cloudy, and that she needed no taper when she retired. Such was the gossip of meddlesome old women, and Matthew Watson had heard of the witchcraft in New England and was a little troubled; but he was an elder in meeting and must hold his peace. Not so Ruth's mother. She dared speak, at least in her own house, and so that same bright October afternoon she finally gained her daughter's attention and spoke her mind freely.

"Ruth, I insist that thee shall listen. Thee knows full well thy conscience troubles thee, and yet thee will not heed the warnings of the inward voice."

"But, mother—"

"Do not speak, dear, until I have done. Thee cannot in thy soberer moments acquit thyself for such light conversation and—"

"And what?" asked Ruth, as her mother paused for a moment, opening her magnificent eyes to the fullest extent and gazing into her mother's face.

"And conduct towards John."

Ruth had been sitting on a low stool at her mother's feet during the conversation, but when she heard these words, she sprang to her feet and repeated them with an emphasis suggestive of mingled indignation and surprise.

"Conduct towards John! Why, I have known him since almost a baby, and never a word of this until now. What has been said to thee about us, or what has thee or father noticed that I should be so strangely taken to task?"

"Does thee not know that John is much impressed by thee?"

"No, mother, nor is he aware of it, nor is thee, nor is any one except the idle busybodies that have crept into our scattered neighborhood, or were here before we came. The only impression I ever made on John Bishop was when I jumped from the overturning boat and landed on his feet. I noticed he limped for half an hour afterwards."

"Ruth, Ruth, will thee never be serious?" asked her mother, in despair.

"Never, mother dear, when thee persists in talking in such a way. John Bishop has his shop to look after, and I do not believe his business is so flourishing that he is thinking of a wife. Thee need not fear my friendly greeting, when we happen to meet, will cause him to lose his heart, and I have yet got mine in my own keeping. Why, mother, I'm but seventeen and he is—must be thirty. Really, you seem to be putting such ideas in my head in hopes that I will soon marry and leave you. Do you want me to leave you, mother dear, so very, very soon?" And again those deep blue eyes opened widely and pleaded, as usual, far more eloquently than any words.

"Indeed, I do not, Ruth, as thee should know;" but Ruth felt that perhaps her mother had given such a thought some consideration and was not disposed to listen further. Kissing her mother while she was yet speaking, she turned suddenly and left the room.