A Colonial Wooing/Chapter 14

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A Colonial Wooing  (1895)  by Charles Conrad Abbott
Chapter 14: Plots and Counter-plots

Chapter XIV.

Plots and Counter-plots.

"Ruth," called Robert Pearson, when he and John were within easy hailing distance, "have you no eyes for your cousin or for—" but Ruth had heard, and, stopping suddenly, waited for the two men to come up to her. Her greeting was cordial, but a little more restrained than it might have been had it been either John or Robert instead of both.

Her cousin noticed this at once, and before Ruth had more than said she was glad to see them, said, in a cheerful but earnest way, "Let's get down to business at once, Ruth, and blow the poetry of courtship to the winds. There is no time for it now."

Ruth blushed as her eyes wandered towards John, and he was very rosy, and so the more handsome in her eyes; but his quick glance spoke volumes, and Ruth knew they had met her for a serious purpose.

"Ruth, neither John nor I are willing that thee should go to England, if it can be prevented, and the question before us is, can we prevent it? I know of thy understanding with John, and so we will make no further reference to that, but let me add, I guessed it and was not told." And Robert looked at John and laughed heartily.

Poor John! he wished that Robert could attend to all this without his aid and he was busy in his shop. For the first time since their "understanding," as Robert called it, he had met Ruth, and under what strange circumstances; and the thought came stealing across his mind, Is this the conduct the world expects of a Friend? To enter into a conspiracy! But he saw Ruth's inquiring glances trying to read his thoughts, and forthwith all concern for other matters vanished. He had, in truth, but one thought, one aim, one ambition,—Ruth; and as he looked at her now, their glances meeting, he tried hard to have her read his heart.

"This is an ugly business, Ruth, and must be grappled with caution. Matthew has the advantage in many ways,—the law is on his side; so, above all else, appear to be obedient," said Robert, earnestly; "a good deal will depend upon thy power of acting a part."

"But I hate it! Why can't I speak out?"

"How like a woman! Mad in love with her lover, and before then mad in love with herself. Always acting a part, and a fetching one, too, that made many a Quaker breast thump like flails on the threshing-floor, and now she tells us she hates acting. Why, Ruth, was it not your sweet acting, the part you played, that won John?"

"Is this your important business, Cousin Robert? If so, I will go on to the house."

"Now, who is acting, Ruth? As if you could leave John in that heartless way. But come, let us talk seriously."

"I wish thee would," replied Ruth.

"Then let me unfold a plan, and ask for nothing but what we tell you," said Robert, speaking again in a sober, earnest way.

"That's like father; only so much as he sees fit to tell me."

"He is not thy father, Ruth, and I wish thee would not call him so," said Robert, impatiently.

"Mother would be displeased if I did not; but he is only father in name, and this I always remember when I speak to him. I do not remember that I ever kissed him in my life."

"And you'll not kiss him good-by, I'll warrant," Robert replied; and said, further, "This, in brief, is what John and I have determined upon. You are to start—"

"To start?"

"Yes, to start, and let the finish be in other hands. You shall not be left in doubt at any stage, but must trust implicitly, that there be no failure. A misstep might work endless mischief, you know. Isn't there some sort of a saying about a misstep—well, perhaps I'm thinking of something else; but trust us, John and I, and all will be well, and how the whole province will say 'amen!'"

"Robert, thee frightens me. Is what cousin says thy counsel too?" And Ruth gave an anxious glance towards John and held out her hand, as if she asked for his support.

John took her hand and said, "Yes, Ruth, Robert is the better spokesman, and let him give my wishes their words. I trust thee will follow his advice in every particular. What is his counsel is mine, and when the day shall come that I can speak freely, there will be no words too strong to express how much we owe him. I once was instrumental in snatching thee from danger, and Robert may prove equally timely in drawing thee from another and a greater one." And John suddenly ceased speaking, feeling that further speech might too strongly betray his emotions.

"Thy earnest words, that sound so unlike thee, do not relieve my fears, John. What is the whole truth, John,—Robert? Do some one tell me! What has happened that I should be sent away from home, and be in danger too from the time I start? Why is there so much mystery about it all?" And Ruth was rapidly working herself up to a dangerous pitch of excitement.

"We are playing a game of chess, but this time with living figures, such as I wished to teach you, and it rests with you whether or not Matthew Watson is checkmated—and you, mated." And Robert laughed at his little joke at Ruth's expense. "Either John or I will give you written instructions, which you are not to read until on board the boat, and then without being observed by others to do so. Follow these simple directions and don't fear for the result. It may appear like taking a leap in the dark, but your present ignorance is your future good."

"I believe thee, cousin; but it seems all so strange," replied Ruth, with an effort at cheerfulness.

"We cannot, if we would, tell you much more now, for all our plans are not matured. We have yet to learn what thy step-father proposes to do. You are to go down to Philadelphia in his boat, I believe, and when?"

"The ship I go in sails on the twenty-fifth of Second month."

"The last week in April; well, that's some days off; but, John, we must not let grass grow under our feet. Ruth, here is a little commonplace book with a dozen leaves left in it. Whatever you learn worth reporting write on one of these leaves and find some way to get it into John's hands or mine, but without folks knowing it. Don't let it be all covered over with love messages." And Robert made the woods ring with his merry laughter.

"But how can I do this? I cannot carry the leaves to John, thee knows."

"Much as you'd like to." And Robert laughed again.

"I believe thee will laugh at thy own funeral, cousin; but do tell me how, and please don't tease me so," pleaded Ruth, and she took a step nearer to John.

"That's right; put yourself under John's protection. You can't commence too soon." And again Robert laughed more heartily than ever.

"It is too bad of thee to go on so when I am all worked up with worry and dread. John, why does thee let him tease me so?" At this appeal Robert could no longer contain himself, and laughed in his hearty way till his sides ached; then composing himself, he said, "I'll tell you how. I have to see Neighbor Watson almost every day about the new flood-gates, and, instead of meeting him at John's shop, I will come to the house and bring my maps and plans with me to spread out before him, and while we talk you can slip the note into my hand, or put it in my hat, or leave it under the flat stone by the lane gate. Only, I charge you, if you value your welfare and John's, find out all you can, and don't appear to be finding out anything; and what you hear report to us."

"I will; and now do let me go home, for I have no head to carry on a conversation even with the girls, and want a chance to think in quiet; and oh, I am so tired of standing!"

"No, don't go back. Let the girls take care of you, and mother will coddle you till you're rosy as an apple again. If I meet Neighbor Watson as John and I go back to the shop, I'll tell him you won't be home."

"But you won't see him, for he went to Burlington; but I told mother I might stay."

Ruth hesitated a moment. She wanted to say just one word to John, and yet Robert's presence restrained her. She must content herself with a formal hand-shake, she thought, which is such a poor substitute for a lover's farewell. Did Robert catch the current of Ruth's thought? John, too, lingered a little, and, while Robert's back was turned, he bent over Ruth's upturned face and, kissing her for the first time, whispered, "Farewell, Ruth, and trust us."