A Colonial Wooing/Chapter 6

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A Colonial Wooing (1895)
by Charles Conrad Abbott
Chapter 6: A Letter from England
1815586A Colonial Wooing — Chapter 6: A Letter from England1895Charles Conrad Abbott

Chapter VI.

A Letter from England.

The good ship "Bristol," William Smith, Commander, that had made many voyages from English ports to Philadelphia, sighted the capes and slowly worked her way up the broad bay, and after many a trying hour, held by baffling winds and perverse currents, she at last cast anchor in front of the thriving village founded by Penn. Her voyage of nearly forty days had been uneventful, and it was with a feeling of relief that the passengers and crew again found themselves on shore. Those who were new-comers found much to attract their attention, and many were the inquiries made as to the whereabouts of the friends who had preceded them and by glowing accounts of the wonderful country had induced them to follow. The captain had his packet of letters to distribute, some to the thrifty merchants of the little town, and others to be sent to the back-country settlements. One such communication, larger than the ordinary folded sheet, and impressively sealed with an abundance of red wax, bore this direction: Matthew Watson, in Chesterfield, Co. Burlington, Province of West New Jarsie. After some trouble safe conveyance was found for this official-looking document, and on the day following the arrival of the "Bristol" a stout shallop spread its dingy sail, and at sunrise, taking advantage of both wind and tide, started up the river, bound for Crosswicks Creek. The outlook then was favorable for a quick trip, but before noon the wind had died away, and when the tide turned there was nothing to do but to cast anchor and wait.

The crew of four men were not troubled at this turn of affairs. Their business was to ply between the two points mentioned, and the world was not then in such haste that letters or merchandise lost significance or value if received a day or a week later than was possible, but never probable. This early November day, rich with a golden haze that brought all beauty better into view, was idly spent on board, and after the commonplaces of wondering when they could proceed had been passed, each man took himself unto himself and wondered why more of his people did not flock hither to this land of endless promise. The captain was for a while otherwise engaged. After looking at the superscriptions on the letters he had had placed in his charge and wondering whether they contained good news or ill, he took a small book from his pocket, and summing up the probable gains of the year, said to himself, "If the season ends as well as it began, I shall have enough to carry out my plans and will make a change. I wonder if I could sell my boat to any one in Chesterfield. I will talk to John Bishop when we anchor at the ferry."

The ferry was not reached until late the next day, and then, when the boat was seen coming slowly up the creek, many of those who lived near came down to the landing, out of idle curiosity, or for such goods as they were expecting, or to receive possibly a letter from "home," for by this endearing term nearly every one still spoke of England. Matthew Watson had, among the first, received his well-sealed letter, which he carried exposed to the gaze of the by-standers, with a conscious air, until he reached his house.

"What is it?" asked his wife, as he entered the room where she was sitting, facing the cheerful fire upon the hearth.

"A letter."

"From friends in Philadelphia?"

"From England." And then adjusting his full-moon glasses, scanning every seal, scratch, and pen-mark upon the outside, proceeded slowly to open and read the letter. It was a long communication, and before he had finished reading he laid it down, and, removing his spectacles, said, "Ruth."

"Ruth has gone to Neighbor Pearson's, dear; what is it?"

"I wish she would remain more with her own people and not visit Neighbor Pearson so frequently. She has been left an estate."

"Left an estate! Why, Matthew, what does thee mean?" asked his wife, rising from her chair and walking to where her husband was standing by the window.

"Her uncle Timothy has left her money and personal effects of value provided she shall return to England and make her home with her father's people. If she declines, the property goes to her cousins. What does thee think; is it well that she returns?"

"This is too suddenly placed before us to speak advisedly, and Ruth must be consulted. It is her future that is concerned, and she is old enough to be her own counsellor in such a matter; but the thought of her leaving me is very grievous. I do wish she would return." And Anne Watson, more troubled than she wished to admit, looked earnestly over the fields towards the ferry, to see if her daughter was coming. There was then no one in sight, but a moment later there came into view from behind the rhododendron hedge Ruth and John Bishop, in earnest conversation.

"She is coming now!" exclaimed one of the boys; and opening the door, he called, "Sister Ruth, there's a letter for you from England with lots of money in it, and you've got to go 'way to get it and—" But the boy's father checked the child's startling announcement by a sudden pull at his collar that sent him trotting backward across the kitchen floor.

"What does brother mean?" Ruth asked, with a thoroughly puzzled look upon her flushed face, for her conversation with John Bishop had evidently been of an exciting character.

"There is a letter from England that is of much moment, particularly to thyself, and we will consider its contents at the proper time," replied her step-father, with a glance at John Bishop, which was not lost upon him or upon Ruth.

"Farewell, Ruth," John remarked, scarcely noticing the others who had gathered about her, and was about to turn away when Ruth said,—

"Stay, John; mother may wish to say how grateful she feels, and this is thy first visit since that unlucky day."

There was a play upon John's features that strongly suggested the idea he considered it quite the opposite, as he again faced the whole Watson family on their porch, and shook hands with Ruth's mother, who had come forward and said, "Truly, John, I do not know how to thank thee; thee must read my heart."

"Heart-reading is often a difficult task," John replied, and his eyes wandered towards Ruth, who was anxious that the interview should end, for she was very curious to know how that letter from England concerned her. Holding out her hand with an air that made her step-father frown and stare, she said, "Good-by, John; I am obliged to thee for seeing me across the ferry." And he, taking the hint, bade the assembled family farewell and turned towards his shop.

"Is it possible thee requires John's assistance to cross the ferry, Ruth? Could thee not take one of the boys with thee, if thee must go so frequently to Robert Pearson's?" asked Matthew, with a tone that had more suggestiveness than the mere words.

"John offered to come, seeing I was alone, as I passed the shop, and said he wished to speak with me. Besides, I had not seen him since the other day, and I had something to say to him; and why," Ruth's voice ringing with a trace of anger that meant defiance, as Matthew well knew, "should I not go to Neighbor Pearson's? Is not Robert cousin or something of mother's? When they seem not to want me I will stay away."

"Ruth, Ruth," gently spoke her mother, "thee forgets."

"No, mother, I forget nothing; it's a pity I didn't; but what is this wonderful letter all about? Was it sent to me, or mother, or who?" And Ruth showed by her rapid speaking that she was, if not quite a woman grown, so near it that she recognized the difference between it and childhood. Then kissing her mother, she said again, "Do tell me about this letter."

"If thee will compose thyself, Ruth," her step-father replied, "I will tell thee about it. It is from Revell Stacy, and he is authorized to inform thee, as he does through me, that thy uncle Timothy Davenport has left thee property sufficient for thy maintenance, if thee returns to England, but it goes to thy cousins if thee declines to accept the conditions. What does thee think?"

"Think?" said Ruth, "think about it?" And while speaking she walked from front of the fire to the middle of the room, and standing on tiptoe, first on one foot and then on the other, as if about to begin a dance for their amusement, and then actually sang in her parent's presence, keeping time with her body,—

"Money, money,
Bread and honey,
Dresses new and dresses gay;
Lovers many,
Cares not any—"

then stopping as suddenly as she began, dropped on her knees at her mother's feet and, looking the astonished woman directly in the face, added,—

"Mother, must I go away?"

"I am astonished!" exclaimed Matthew Watson, "singing and dancing in my house. Anne, is thy daughter ill?" "No, father," exclaimed Ruth, standing up before him and giving him one of those steady, fearless looks that made him lose confidence in himself,—"no, I am not ill, but I have had too much to happen in one day perhaps. This is indeed sudden; but as to leaving mother, no, not for any fortune in England or all the fortunes in all England, and thee can send word to Revell Stacy as soon as thee chooses."

"Do not be rash, dear," Ruth's mother almost whispered; "thee must think it over."

"Very well, then, I'll think it over and ask Cousin Robert what he thinks," said Ruth, quietly.

Her suggestion to refer it to Robert Pearson made her step-father look very black, and he closed the lid of his desk with a startling slam.